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Part One: Sexual Orientation 

Lawrence S. Mayer, Paul R. McHugh

While some people are under the impression that sexual orientation is an innate, fixed, and biological trait of human beings — that, whether heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual, we are “born that way” — there is insufficient scientific evidence to support that claim. In fact, the concept of sexual orientation itself is highly ambiguous; it can refer to a set of behaviors, to feelings of attraction, or to a sense of identity. Epidemiological studies show a rather modest association between genetic factors and sexual attractions or behaviors, but do not provide significant evidence pointing to particular genes. There is also evidence for other hypothesized biological causes of homosexual behaviors, attractions, or identity — such as the influence of hormones on prenatal development — but that evidence, too, is limited. Studies of the brains of homosexuals and heterosexuals have found some differences, but have not demonstrated that these differences are inborn rather than the result of environmental factors that influenced both psychological and neurobiological traits. One environmental factor that appears to be correlated with non-heterosexuality is childhood sexual abuse victimization, which may also contribute to the higher rates of poor mental health outcomes among non-heterosexual subpopulations, compared to the general population. Overall, the evidence suggests some measure of fluidity in patterns of sexual attraction and behavior — contrary to the “born that way” notion that oversimplifies the vast complexity of human sexuality.

Contents

The popular discussion of sexual orientation is characterized by two conflicting ideas about why some individuals are lesbian, gay, or bisexual. While some claim that sexual orientation is a choice, others say that sexual orientation is a fixed feature of one’s nature, that one is “born that way.” We hope to show here that, though sexual orientation is not a choice, neither is there scientific evidence for the view that sexual orientation is a fixed and innate biological property.

A prominent recent example of a person describing sexual orientation as a choice is Cynthia Nixon, a star of the popular television series Sex and the City, who in a January 2012 New York Times interview explained, “For me it’s a choice, and you don’t get to define my gayness for me,” and commented that she was “very annoyed” about the issue of whether or not gay people are born that way. “Why can’t it be a choice? Why is that any less legitimate?”[1] Similarly, Brandon Ambrosino wrote in The New Republic in 2014 that “It’s time for the LGBT community to stop fearing the word ‘choice,’ and to reclaim the dignity of sexual autonomy.”[2]

By contrast, proponents of the “born that way” hypothesis — expressed for instance in Lady Gaga’s 2011 song “Born This Way” — posit that there is a causal biological basis for sexual orientation and often try to bolster their claims with scientific findings. Citing three scientific studies[3] and an article from Science magazine,[4] Mark Joseph Stern, writing for Slate in 2014, claims that “homosexuality, at least in men, is clearly, undoubtedly, inarguably an inborn trait.”[5] However, as neuroscientist Simon LeVay, whose work in 1991 showed brain differences in homosexual men compared to heterosexual men, explained some years after his study, “It’s important to stress what I didn’t find. I did not prove that homosexuality is genetic, or find a genetic cause for being gay. I didn’t show that gay men are ‘born that way,’ the most common mistake people make in interpreting my work. Nor did I locate a gay center in the brain.”[6]

Many recent books contain popular treatments of science that make claims about the innateness of sexual orientation. These books often exaggerate — or at least oversimplify — complex scientific findings. For example, in a 2005 book, psychologist and science writer Leonard Sax responds to a worried mother’s question as to whether her teenage son will outgrow his homosexual attractions: “Biologically, the difference between a gay man and a straight man is something like the difference between a left-handed person and a right-handed person. Being left-handed isn’t just a phase. A left-handed person won’t someday magically turn into a right-handed person.... Some children are destined at birth to be left-handed, and some boys are destined at birth to grow up to be gay.”[7]

As we argue in this part of the report, however, there is little scientific evidence to support the claim that sexual attraction is simply fixed by innate and deterministic factors such as genes. Popular understandings of scientific findings often presume deterministic causality when the findings do not warrant that presumption.

Another important limitation for research and for interpretation of scientific studies on this topic is that some central concepts — including “sexual orientation” itself — are often ambiguous, making reliable measurements difficult both within individual studies and when comparing results across studies. So before turning to the scientific evidence concerning the development of sexual orientation and sexual desire, we will examine at some length several of the most troublesome conceptual ambiguities in the study of human sexuality in order to arrive at a fuller picture of the relevant concepts.

Problems with Defining Key Concepts

A 2014 New York Times Magazine piece titled “The Scientific Quest to Prove Bisexuality Exists”[8] provides an illustration of the themes explored in this Part — sexual desire, attraction, orientation, and identity — and of the difficulties with defining and studying these concepts. Specifically, the article shows how a scientific approach to studying human sexuality can conflict with culturally prevalent views of sexual orientation, or with the self-understanding that many people have of their own sexual desires and identities. Such conflicts raise important questions about whether sexual orientation and related concepts are as coherent and well-defined as is often assumed by researchers and the public alike.

The author of the article, Benoit Denizet-Lewis, an openly gay man, describes the work of scientists and others trying to demonstrate the existence of a stable bisexual orientation. He visited researchers at Cornell University and participated in tests used to measure sexual arousal, tests that include observing the way pupils dilate in response to sexually explicit imagery. To his surprise, he found that, according to this scientific measure, he was aroused when watching pornographic films of women masturbating:

Might I actually be bisexual? Have I been so wedded to my gay identity — one I adopted in college and announced with great fanfare to family and friends — that I haven’t allowed myself to experience another part of myself? In some ways, even asking those questions is anathema to many gays and lesbians. That kind of publicly shared uncertainty is catnip to the Christian Right and to the scientifically dubious, psychologically damaging ex-gay movement it helped spawn. As out gay men and lesbians, after all, we’re supposed to be sure — we’re supposed to be “born this way.”[9]

Despite the apparently scientific (though admittedly limited) evidence of his bisexual-typical patterns of arousal, Denizet-Lewis rejected the idea that he was actually bisexual, because “It doesn’t feel true as a sexual orientation, nor does it feel right as my identity.”[10]

Denizet-Lewis’s concerns here illustrate a number of the quandaries raised by the scientific study of human sexuality. The objective measures the researchers used seemed to be at odds with the more intuitive, subjective understanding of what it is to be sexually aroused; our own understanding of what we are sexually aroused by is tied up with the entirety of our lived experience of sexuality. Furthermore, Denizet-Lewis’s insistence that he is gay, not bisexual, and his concern that uncertainty about his identity could have social and political implications, points to the fact that sexual orientation and identity are understood not only in scientific and personal terms, but in social, moral, and political terms as well.

But how do categories of sexual orientation — with labels such as “bisexual” or “gay” or “straight” — help scientists study the complex phenomenon of human sexuality? When we examine the concept of sexual orientation, it becomes apparent, as this part will show, that it is too vague and poorly defined to be very useful in science, and that in its place we need more clearly defined concepts. We strive in this report to use clear terms; when discussing scientific studies that rely on the concept of “sexual orientation,” we try as much as possible to specify how the scientists defined the term, or related terms.

One of the central difficulties in examining and researching sexual orientation is that the underlying concepts of “sexual desire,” “sexual attraction,” and “sexual arousal” can be ambiguous, and it is even less clear what it means that a person identifies as having a sexual orientation grounded in some pattern of desires, attractions, or states of arousal.

The word “desire” all by itself might be used to cover an aspect of volition more naturally expressed by “want”: I want to go out for dinner, or to take a road trip with my friends next summer, or to finish this project. When “desire” is used in this sense, the objects of desire are fairly determinate goals — some may be perfectly achievable, such as moving to a new city or finding a new job; others may be more ambitious and out of reach, like the dream of becoming a world-famous movie star. Often, however, the language of desire is meant to include things that are less clear: indefinite longings for a life that is, in some unspecified sense, different or better; an inchoate sense of something being missing or lacking in oneself or one’s world; or, in psychoanalytic literature, unconscious dynamic forces that shape one’s cognitive, emotional, and social behaviors, but that are separate from one’s ordinary, conscious sense of self.

This more full-blooded notion of desire is, itself, ambiguous. It might refer to a hoped-for state of affairs like finding a sense of meaning, fulfillment, and satisfaction with one’s life, a desire that, while not completely clear in its implications, is presumably not entirely out of reach, although such longings may also be forms of fantasizing about a radically altered or perhaps even unattainable state of affairs. If I want to take a road trip with my friends, the steps are clear: call up my friends, pick a date, map out a route, and so on. However, if I have an inchoate longing for change, a hope for sustainable intimacy, love, and belonging, or an unconscious conflict that is disrupting my ability to move forward in the life I have tried to build for myself, I face a different sort of challenge. There is not necessarily a set of well-defined or conscious goals, much less established ways of achieving them. This is not to say that the satisfaction of these longings is impossible, but doing so often involves not only choosing concrete actions to achieve particular goals but the more complex shaping of one’s own life through acting in and making sense of the world and one’s place in it.

So the first thing to note when considering both popular discussions and scientific studies of sexuality is that the use of the term “desire” could refer to distinct aspects of human life and experience.

Just as the meanings that might be intended by the term “desire” are many, so also is each of these meanings varied, making clear delineations a challenge. For example, a commonsense understanding might suggest that the term “sexual desire” means wanting to engage in specific sexual acts with particular individuals (or categories of individuals). Psychiatrist Steven Levine articulated this common view in his definition of sexual desire as “the sum of the forces that incline us toward and away from sexual behavior.”[11] But it is not obvious how one might study this “sum” in a rigorous way. Nor is it obvious why all the diverse factors that can potentially influence sexual behavior, such as material poverty — in the case of prostitution, for instance — alcohol consumption, and intimate affection, should all be grouped together as aspects of sexual desire. As Levine himself points out, “In anyone’s hands, sexual desire can be a slippery concept.”[12]

Consider a few of the ways that the term “sexual desire” has been employed in scientific contexts — designating one or more of the following distinct phenomena:

1. States of physical arousal that may or may not be linked to a specific physical activity and may or may not be objects of conscious awareness.

2. Conscious erotic interest in response to finding others attractive (in perception, memory, or fantasy), which may or may not involve any of the bodily processes associated with measurable states of physical arousal.

3. Strong interest in finding a companion or establishing a durable relationship.

4. The romantic aspirations and feelings associated with infatuation or falling in love with a specific individual.

5. Inclination towards attachment to specific individuals.

6. The general motivation to seek intimacy with a member of some specific group.

7. An aesthetic measure that latches onto perceived beauty in others.[13]

In a given social science study, the concepts mentioned above will often each have its own particular operational definition for the purposes of research. But they cannot all mean the same thing. Strong interest in finding a companion, for example, is clearly distinguishable from physical arousal. Looking at this list of experiential and psychological phenomena, one can easily envision what confusions might arise from using the term “sexual desire” without sufficient care.

The philosopher Alexander Pruss provides a helpful summary of some of the difficulties involved in characterizing the related concept of sexual attraction:

What does it mean to be “sexually attracted” to someone? Does it mean to have a tendency to be aroused in their presence? But surely it is possible to find someone sexually attractive without being aroused. Does it mean to form the belief that someone is sexually attractive to one? Surely not, since a belief about who is sexually attractive to one might be wrong — for instance, one might confuse admiration of form with sexual attraction. Does it mean to have a noninstrumental desire for a sexual or romantic relationship with the person? Probably not: we can imagine a person who has no sexual attraction to anybody, but who has a noninstrumental desire for a romantic relationship because of a belief, based on the testimony of others, that romantic relationships have noninstrumental value. These and similar questions suggest that there is a cluster of related concepts under the head of “sexual attraction,” and any precise definition is likely to be an undesirable shoehorning. But if the concept of sexual attraction is a cluster of concepts, neither are there simply univocal concepts of heterosexuality, homosexuality, and bisexuality.[14]

The ambiguity of the term “sexual desire” (and similar terms) should give us pause to consider the diverse aspects of human experience that are often associated with it. The problem is neither irresolvable nor unique to this subject matter. Other social science concepts — aggression and addiction, for example — may likewise be difficult to define and to operationalize and for this reason admit of various usages.[*] Nevertheless, the ambiguity presents a significant challenge for both research design and interpretation, requiring that we take care in attending to the meanings, contexts, and findings specific to each study. It is also important to bracket any subjective associations with or uses of these terms that do not conform to well-defined scientific classifications and techniques.

It would be a mistake, at any rate, to ignore the varied uses of this and related terms or to try to reduce the many and distinct experiences to which they might refer to a single concept or experience. As we shall see, doing so could in some cases adversely affect the evaluation and treatment of patients.

The Context of Sexual Desire

We can further clarify the complex phenomenon of sexual desire if we examine what relationship it has to other aspects of our lives. To do so, we borrow some conceptual tools from a philosophical tradition known as phenomenology, which conceives of human experience as deriving its meaning from the whole context in which it appears.

The testimony of experience suggests that one’s experience of sexual desire and sexual attraction is not voluntary, at least not in any immediate way. The whole set of inclinations that we generally associate with the experience of sexual desire — whether the impulse to engage in particular acts or to enjoy certain relationships — does not appear to be the sole product of any deliberate choice. Our sexual appetites (like other natural appetites) are experienced as given, even if their expression is shaped in subtle ways by many factors, which might very well include volition. Indeed, far from appearing as a product of our will, sexual desire — however we define it — is often experienced as a powerful force, akin to hunger, that many struggle (especially in adolescence) to bring under direction and control. Furthermore, sexual desire can impact one’s attention involuntarily or color one’s day-to-day perceptions, experiences, and encounters. What seems to be to some extent in our control is how we choose to live with this appetite, how we integrate it into the rest of our lives.

But the question remains: What is sexual desire? What is this part of our lives that we consider to be given, prior even to our capacity to deliberate and make rational choices about it? We know that some sort of sexual appetite is present in non-human animals, as is evident in the mammalian estrous cycle; in most mammalian species sexual arousal and receptivity are linked to the phase of the ovulation cycle during which the female is reproductively receptive.[15] One of the relatively unique features of Homo sapiens, shared with only a few other primates, is that sexual desire is not exclusively linked to the woman’s ovulatory cycle.[16] Some biologists have argued that this means that sexual desire in humans has evolved to facilitate the formation of sustaining relationships between parents, in addition to the more basic biological purpose of reproduction. Whatever the explanation for the origins and biological functions of human sexuality, the lived experience of sexual desires is laden with significance that goes beyond the biological purposes that sexual desires and behaviors serve. This significance is not just a subjective add-on to the more basic physiological and functional realities, but something that pervades our lived experience of sexuality.

As philosophers who study the structure of conscious experience have observed, our way of experiencing the world is shaped by our “embodiment, bodily skills, cultural context, language and other social practices.”[17] Long before most of us experience anything like what we typically associate with sexual desire, we are already enmeshed in a cultural and social context involving other persons, feelings, emotions, opportunities, deprivations, and so on. Perhaps sexuality, like other human phenomena that gradually become part of our psychological constitution, has roots in these early meaning-making experiences. If meaning-making is integral to human experience in general, it is likely to play a key role in sexual experience in particular. And given that volition is operative in these other aspects of our lives, it stands to reason that volition will be operative in our experience of sexuality too, if only as one of many other factors.

This is not to suggest that sexuality — including sexual desire, attraction, and identity — is the result of any deliberate, rational decision calculus. Even if volition plays an important role in sexuality, volition itself is quite complex: many, perhaps most, of our volitional choices do not seem to come in the form of discrete, conscious, or deliberate decisions; “volitional” does not necessarily mean “deliberate.” The life of a desiring, volitional agent involves many tacit patterns of behavior owing to habits, past experiences, memories, and subtle ways of adopting and abandoning different stances on one’s life.

If something like this way of understanding the life of a desiring, volitional agent is true, then we do not deliberately “choose” the objects of our sexual desires any more than we choose the objects of our other desires. It might be more accurate to say that we gradually guide and give ourselves over to them over the course of our growth and development. This process of forming and reforming ourselves as human beings is similar to what Abraham Maslow calls self-actualization.[18] Why should sexuality be an exception to this process? In the picture we are offering, internal factors, such as our genetic make-up, and external environmental factors, such as past experiences, are only ingredients, however important, in the complex human experience of sexual desire.

Sexual Orientation

Just as the concept of “sexual desire” is complex and difficult to define, there are currently no agreed-upon definitions of “sexual orientation,” “homosexuality,” or “heterosexuality” for purposes of empirical research. Should homosexuality, for example, be characterized by reference to desires to engage in particular acts with individuals of the same sex, or to a patterned history of having engaged in such acts, or to particular features of one’s private wishes or fantasies, or to a consistent impulse to seek intimacy with members of the same sex, or to a social identity imposed by oneself or others, or to something else entirely?

As early as 1896, in a book on homosexuality, the French thinker Marc-André Raffalovich argued that there were more than ten different types of affective inclination or behavior captured by the term “homosexuality” (or what he called “unisexuality”).[19] Raffalovich knew his subject matter up close: he chronicled the trial, imprisonment, and resulting social disgrace of the writer Oscar Wilde, who had been prosecuted for “gross indecency” with other men. Raffalovich himself maintained a prolonged and intimate relationship with John Gray, a man of letters thought to be the inspiration for Wilde’s classic The Picture of Dorian Gray.[20] We might also consider the vast psychoanalytic literature from the early twentieth century on the topic of sexual desire, in which the experiences of individual subjects and their clinical cases are catalogued in great detail. These historical examples bring into relief the complexity that researchers still face today when attempting to arrive at clean categorizations of the richly varied affective and behavioral phenomena associated with sexual desire, in both same-sex and opposite-sex attractions.

We may contrast such inherent complexity with a different phenomenon that can be delineated unambiguously, such as pregnancy. With very few exceptions, a woman is or is not pregnant, which makes classification of research subjects for the purposes of study relatively easy: compare pregnant women with other, non-pregnant women. But how can researchers compare, say, “gay” men to “straight” men in a single study, or across a range of studies, without mutually exclusive and exhaustive definitions of the terms “gay” and “straight”?

To increase precision, some researchers categorize concepts associated with human sexuality along a continuum or scale according to variations in pervasiveness, prominence, or intensity. Some scales focus on both intensity and the objects of sexual desire. Among the most familiar and widely used is the Kinsey scale, developed in the 1940s to classify sexual desires and orientations using purportedly measurable criteria. People are asked to choose one of the following options:

0 - Exclusively heterosexual
1 - Predominantly heterosexual, only incidentally homosexual
2 - Predominantly heterosexual, but more than incidentally homosexual
3 - Equally heterosexual and homosexual
4 - Predominantly homosexual, but more than incidentally heterosexual
5 - Predominantly homosexual, only incidentally heterosexual
6 - Exclusively homosexual[21]

But there are considerable limitations to this approach. In principle, measurements of this sort are valuable for social science research. They can be used, for example, in empirical tests such as the classic “t-test,” which helps researchers measure statistically meaningful differences between data sets. Many measurements in social science, however, are “ordinal,” meaning that variables are rank-ordered along a single, one-dimensional continuum but are not intrinsically significant beyond that. In the case of the Kinsey scale, this situation is even worse, because it measures the self-identification of individuals, while leaving unclear whether the values they report all refer to the same aspect of sexuality — different people may understand the terms “heterosexual” and “homosexual” to refer to feelings of attraction, or to arousal, or to fantasies, or to behavior, or to any combination of these. The ambiguity of the terms severely limits the use of the Kinsey scale as an ordinal measurement that gives a rank order to variables along a single, one-dimensional continuum. So it is not clear that this scale helps researchers to make even rudimentary classifications among the relevant groups using qualitative criteria, much less to rank-order variables or conduct controlled experiments.

Perhaps, given the inherent complexity of the subject matter, attempts to devise “objective” scales of this sort are misguided. In a critique of such approaches to social science, philosopher and neuropsychologist Daniel N. Robinson points out that “statements that lend themselves to different interpretation do not become ‘objective’ merely by putting a numeral in front of them.”[22] It may be that self-reported identifications with culturally fraught and inherently complex labels simply cannot provide an objective basis for quantitative measurements in individuals or across groups.

Another obstacle for research in this area may be the popular, but not well-supported, belief that romantic desires are sublimations of sexual desires. This idea, traceable to Freud’s theory of unconscious drives, has been challenged by research on “attachment theory,” developed by John Bowlby in the 1950s.[23] Very roughly, attachment theory holds that later affective experiences that are often grouped under the general rubric “romantic” are explained in part by early childhood attachment behaviors (associated with maternal figures or caregivers) — not by unconscious, sexual drives. Romantic desires, following this line of thought, might not be as strongly correlated with sexual desires as is commonly thought. All of this is to suggest that simple delineations of the concepts relating to human sexuality cannot be taken at face value and that ongoing empirical research sometimes changes or complicates the meanings of the concepts.

If we look at recent research, we find that scientists often use at least one of three categories when attempting to classify people as “homosexual” or “heterosexual”: sexual behavior; sexual fantasies (or related emotional or affective experiences); and self-identification (as “gay,” “lesbian,” “bisexual,” “asexual,” and so forth).[24] Some add a fourth: inclusion in a community defined by sexual orientation. Consider, for example, the American Psychological Association’s definition of sexual orientation in a 2008 document designed to educate the public:

Sexual orientation refers to an enduring pattern of emotional, romantic and/or sexual attractions to men, women or both sexes. Sexual orientation also refers to a person’s sense of identity based on those attractions, related behaviors, and membership in a community of others who share those attractions. Research over several decades has demonstrated that sexual orientation ranges along a continuum, from exclusive attraction to the other sex to exclusive attraction to the same sex.[25] [Emphases added.]

One difficulty with grouping these categories together under the same general rubric of “sexual orientation” is that research suggests they often do not coincide in real life. Sociologist Edward O. Laumann and colleagues summarize this point clearly in a 1994 book:

While there is a core group (about 2.4 percent of the total men and about 1.3 percent of the total women) in our survey who define themselves as homosexual or bisexual, have same-gender partners, and express homosexual desires, there are also sizable groups who do not consider themselves to be either homosexual or bisexual but have had adult homosexual experiences or express some degree of desire.... [T]his preliminary analysis provides unambiguous evidence that no single number can be used to provide an accurate and valid characterization of the incidence and prevalence of homosexuality in the population at large. In sum, homosexuality is fundamentally a multidimensional phenomenon that has manifold meanings and interpretations, depending on context and purpose.[26] [Emphases added.]

More recently, in a 2002 study, psychologists Lisa M. Diamond and Ritch C. Savin-Williams make a similar point:

The more carefully researchers map these constellations — differentiating, for example, between gender identity and sexual identity, desire and behavior, sexual versus affectionate feelings, early-appearing versus late-appearing attractions and fantasies, or social identifications and sexual profiles — the more complicated the picture becomes because few individuals report uniform inter-correlations among these domains.[27] [Emphases added.]

Some researchers acknowledge the difficulties with grouping these various components under a single rubric. For example, researchers John C. Gonsiorek and James D. Weinrich write in a 1991 book: “It can be safely assumed that there is no necessary relationship between a person’s sexual behavior and self-identity unless both are individually assessed.”[28] Likewise, in a 1999 review of research on the development of sexual orientation in women, social psychologist Letitia Anne Peplau argues: “There is ample documentation that same-sex attractions and behaviors are not inevitably or inherently linked to one’s identity.”[29]

In sum, the complexities surrounding the concept of “sexual orientation” present considerable challenges for empirical research on the subject. While the general public may be under the impression that there are widely accepted scientific definitions of terms such as “sexual orientation,” in fact, there are not. Diamond’s assessment of the situation in 2003 is still true today, that “there is currently no scientific or popular consensus on the exact constellation of experiences that definitively ‘qualify’ an individual as lesbian, gay, or bisexual.”[30]

It is owing to such complexities that some researchers, for instance Laumann, proceed by characterizing sexual orientation as a “multidimensional phenomenon.” But one might just as well wonder whether, in trying to shoehorn this “multidimensional phenomenon” into a single category, we are not reifying a concept that corresponds to something far too plastic and diffuse in reality to be of much value in scientific research. While labels such as “heterosexual” and “homosexual” are often taken to designate stable psychological or even biological traits, perhaps they do not. It may be that individuals’ affective, sexual, and behavioral experiences do not conform well to such categorical labels because these labels do not, in fact, refer to natural (psychological or biological) kinds. At the very least, we should recognize that we do not yet possess a clear and well-established framework for research on these topics. Rather than attempting to research sexual desire, attraction, identity, and behavior under the general rubric of “sexual orientation,” we might do better to examine empirically each domain separately and in its own specificity.

To that end, this part of our report considers research on sexual desire and sexual attraction, focusing on the empirical findings related to etiology and development, and highlighting the underlying complexities. We will continue to employ ambiguous terms like “sexual orientation” where they are used by the authors we discuss, but we will try to be attentive to the context of their use and the ambiguities attaching to them.

Challenging the “Born that Way” Hypothesis

Keeping in mind these reflections on the problems of definitions, we turn to the question of how sexual desires originate and develop. Consider the different patterns of attraction between individuals who report experiencing predominant sexual or romantic attraction toward members of the same sex and those who report experiencing predominant sexual or romantic attraction toward members of the opposite sex. What are the causes of these two patterns of attraction? Are such attractions or preferences innate traits, perhaps determined by our genes or prenatal hormones; are they acquired by experiential, environmental, or volitional factors; or do they develop out of some combination of both kinds of causes? What role, if any, does human agency play in the genesis of patterns of attraction? What role, if any, do cultural or social influences play?

Research suggests that while genetic or innate factors may influence the emergence of same-sex attractions, these biological factors cannot provide a complete explanation, and environmental and experiential factors may also play an important role.

The most commonly accepted view in popular discourse we mentioned above — the “born that way” notion that homosexuality and heterosexuality are biologically innate or the product of very early developmental factors — has led many non-specialists to think that homosexuality or heterosexuality is in any given person unchangeable and determined entirely apart from choices, behaviors, life experiences, and social contexts. However, as the following discussion of the relevant scientific literature shows, this is not a view that is well-supported by research.

Studies of Twins

One powerful research design for assessing whether biological or psychological traits have a genetic basis is the study of identical twins. If the probability is high that both members in a pair of identical twins, who share the same genome, exhibit a trait when one of them does — this is known as the concordance rate — then one can infer that genetic factors are likely to be involved in the trait. If, however, the concordance rate for identical twins is no higher than the concordance rate of the same trait in fraternal twins, who share (on average) only half their genes, this indicates that the shared environment may be a more important factor than shared genes.

One of the pioneers of behavioral genetics and one of the first researchers to use twins to study the effect of genes on traits, including sexual orientation, was psychiatrist Franz Josef Kallmann. In a landmark paper published in 1952, he reported that for all the pairs of identical twins he studied, if one of the twins was gay then both were gay, yielding an astonishing 100% concordance rate for homosexuality in identical twins.[31] Were this result replicated and the study designed better, it would have given early support to the “born that way” hypothesis. But the study was heavily criticized. For example, philosopher and law professor Edward Stein notes that Kallmann did not present any evidence that the twins in his study were in fact genetically identical, and his sample was drawn from psychiatric patients, prisoners, and others through what Kallmann described as “direct contacts with the clandestine homosexual world,” leading Stein to argue that Kallmann’s sample “in no way constituted a reasonable cross-section of the homosexual population.”[32] (Samples such as Kallmann’s are known as convenience samples, which involve selecting subjects from populations that are conveniently accessible to the researcher.)

Nevertheless, well-designed twin studies examining the genetics of homosexuality indicate that genetic factors likely play some role in determining sexual orientation. For example, in 2000, psychologist J. Michael Bailey and colleagues conducted a major study of sexual orientation using twins in the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council Twin Registry, a large probability sample, which was therefore more likely to be representative of the general population than Kallmann’s.[33] The study employed the Kinsey scale to operationalize sexual orientation and estimated concordance rates for being homosexual of 20% for men and 24% for women in identical (maternal, monozygotic) twins, compared to 0% for men and 10% for women in non-identical (fraternal, dizygotic) twins.[34] The difference in the estimated concordance rates was statistically significant for men but not for women. On the basis of these findings, the researchers estimated that the heritability of homosexuality for men was 0.45 with a wide 95% confidence interval of 0.00–0.71; for women, it was 0.08 with a similarly wide confidence interval of 0.00–0.67. These estimates suggest that for males 45% of the differences between certain sexual orientations (homosexual versus heterosexuals as measured by the Kinsey scale) could be attributed to differences in genes.

The large confidence intervals in the study by Bailey and colleagues mean that we must be careful in assessing the substantive significance of these findings. The authors interpret their findings to suggest that “any major gene for strictly defined homosexuality has either low penetrance or low frequency,”[35] but their data did show (marginal) statistical significance. While the concordance estimates seem somewhat high in the models used, the confidence intervals are so wide that it is difficult to judge the reliability, including the replicability, of these estimates.

It is worth clarifying here what “heritability” means in these studies, since the technical meaning in population genetics is narrower and more precise than the everyday meaning of the word. Heritability is a measure of how much variation in a particular trait within a population can be attributed to variation in genes in that population. It is not, however, a measure of how much a trait is genetically determined.

Traits that are almost entirely genetically determined can have very low heritability values, while traits that have almost no genetic basis can be found to be highly heritable. For instance, the number of fingers human beings have is almost completely genetically determined. But there is little variation in the number of fingers humans have, and most of the variation we do see is due to non-genetic factors such as accidents, which would lead to low heritability estimates for the trait. Conversely, cultural traits can sometimes be found to be highly heritable. For instance, whether a given individual in mid-twentieth century America wore earrings would have been found to be highly heritable, because it was highly associated with being male or female, which is in turn associated with possessing XX or XY sex chromosomes, making variability in earring-wearing behavior highly associated with genetic differences, despite the fact that wearing earrings is a cultural rather than biological phenomenon. Today, heritability estimates for earring-wearing behavior would be lower than they were in mid-twentieth century America, not because of any changes in the American gene pool, but because of the increased acceptance of men wearing earrings.[36]

So, a heritability estimate of 0.45 does not mean that 45% of sexuality is determined by genes. Rather, it means that 45% of the variation between individuals in the population studied can be attributed in some way to genetic factors, as opposed to environmental factors.

In 2010, psychiatric epidemiologist Niklas Långström and colleagues conducted a large, sophisticated twin study of sexual orientation, analyzing data from 3,826 identical and fraternal same-sex twin pairs (2,320 identical and 1,506 fraternal pairs).[37] The researchers operationalized homosexuality in terms of lifetime same-sex sexual partners. The sample’s concordance rates were somewhat lower than those found in the study by Bailey and colleagues. For having had at least one same-sex partner, the concordance for men was 18% in identical twins and 11% in fraternal twins; for women, 22% and 17%, respectively. For total number of sexual partners, concordance rates for men were 5% in identical twins and 0% in fraternal twins; for women, 11% and 7%, respectively.

For men, these rates suggest an estimated heritability rate of 0.39 for having had at least one lifetime same-sex partner (with a 95% confidence interval of 0.00–0.59), and 0.34 for total number of same-sex partners (with a 95% confidence interval of 0.00–0.53). Environmental factors experienced by one twin but not the other explained 61% and 66% of the variance, respectively, while environmental factors shared by the twins failed to explain any of the variance. For women, the heritability rate for having had at least one lifetime same-sex partner was 0.19 (95% confidence interval of 0.00–0.49); for total number of same-sex partners, it was 0.18 (95% confidence interval of 0.11–0.45). Unique environmental factors accounted for 64% and 66% of the variance, respectively, while shared environmental factors accounted for 17% and 16%, respectively. These values indicate that, while the genetic component of homosexual behavior is far from negligible, non-shared environmental factors play a critical, perhaps preponderant, role. The authors conclude that sexual orientation arises from both heritable and environmental influences unique to the individual, stating that “the present results support the notion that the individual-specific environment does indeed influence sexual preference.”[38]

Another large and nationally representative study of twins published by sociologists Peter S. Bearman and Hannah Brückner in 2002 used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (commonly abbreviated as “Add Health”) of adolescents in grades 7–12.[39] They attempted to estimate the relative influence of social factors, genetic factors, and prenatal hormonal factors on the development of same-sex attractions. Overall, 8.7% of the 18,841 adolescents in their study reported same-sex attractions, 3.1% reported a same-sex romantic relationship, and 1.5% reported same-sex sexual behavior. The authors first analyzed the “social influence hypothesis,” according to which opposite-sex twins receive less gendered socialization from their families than same-sex twins or opposite-sex siblings, and found that this hypothesis was well-supported in the case of males. While female opposite-sex twins in the study were the least likely of all the groups to report same-sex attractions (5.3%), male opposite-sex twins were the likeliest to report same-sex attractions (16.8%) — more than twice as likely as males with a full, non-twin sister (16.8% vs. 7.3%). The authors concluded there was “substantial indirect evidence in support of a socialization model at the individual level.”[40]

The authors also examined the “intrauterine hormone transfer hypothesis,” according to which prenatal hormone transfers between opposite-sex twin fetuses influences the sexual orientation of the twins. (Note that this is different from the more general hypothesis that prenatal hormones influence the development of sexual orientation.) In the study, the proportion of male opposite-sex twins reporting same-sex attraction was about twice as high for those without older brothers (18.7%) as for those with older brothers (8.8%). The authors argued that this finding was strong evidence against the hormone-transfer hypothesis, since the presence of older brothers should not decrease the likelihood of same-sex attraction if that attraction has a basis in prenatal hormonal transfers. However, that conclusion seems premature: the observations are consistent with the possibility of both hormonal factors and the presence of an older brother having an effect (especially if the latter influences the former). This study also found no correlation between experiencing same-sex attraction and having multiple older brothers, which had been reported in some earlier studies.[41]

Finally, Bearman and Brückner did not find evidence of significant genetic influence on sexual attraction. Significant influence would require that identical twins have significantly higher concordance rates for same-sex attraction than fraternal twins or non-twin siblings. But in the study, the rates were statistically similar: identical twins were 6.7% concordant, dizygotic pairs 7.2% concordant, and full siblings 5.5% concordant. The authors concluded that “it is more likely that any genetic influence, if present, can only be expressed in specific and circumscribed social structures.”[42] Based on their data, they suggested the one observed social structure that might enable this genetic expression is the more limited “gender socialization associated with firstborn OS [opposite-sex] twin pairs.”[43] Thus, they inferred that their results “support the hypothesis that less gendered socialization in early childhood and preadolescence shapes subsequent same-sex romantic preferences.”[44] While the findings here are suggestive, further research is needed to confirm this hypothesis. The authors also argued that the higher concordance rates for same-sex attraction reported in previous studies may be unreliable due to methodological problems such as non-representative samples and small sample sizes. (It should be noted, however, that these remarks were published prior to the study by Långström and colleagues discussed above, which uses a study design that does not appear to have these limitations.)

To reconcile the somewhat mixed data on heritability, we could hypothesize that attraction to the same sex may have a stronger heritable component as people age — that is, when researchers attempt to measure sexual orientation later in life (as in the 2010 study by Långström and colleagues) than when measured earlier in life. Heritability estimates can change depending on the age at which a trait is measured because changes in the environmental factors that might influence variation in the trait may vary for individuals at different ages, and because genetically influenced traits may become more fixed at a later stage in an individual’s development (height, for instance, becomes fixed in early adulthood). This hypothesis is also suggested by findings, discussed below, that same-sex attraction may be more fluid in adolescence than in later stages of adulthood.

In contrast to the studies just summarized, psychiatrist Kenneth S. Kendler and colleagues conducted a large twin study using a probability sample of 794 twin pairs and 1,380 non-twin siblings.[45] Based on concordance rates for sexual orientation (defined in this study as self-identification based on attraction), the authors state that their results “suggest that genetic factors may provide an important influence on sexual orientation.”[46] The study does not, however, appear to be sufficiently powerful to draw strong conclusions about the degree of genetic influence on sexuality: only 19 of 324 identical twin pairs had any non-heterosexual member, with 6 of the 19 pairs concordant; 15 of 240 same-sex fraternal twin pairs had any non-heterosexual member, with 2 of the 15 pairs concordant. Because only 8 twin pairs were concordant for non-heterosexuality, the study’s ability to draw substantively significant comparisons between identical and fraternal twins (or between twins and non-twin siblings) is limited.

Overall, these studies suggest that (depending on how homosexuality is defined) in anywhere from 6% to 32% of cases, both members of an identical twin pair would be homosexual if at least one member is. Since some twin studies found higher concordance rates in identical twins than in fraternal twins or non-twin siblings, there may be genetic influences on sexual desire and behavioral preferences. One needs to bear in mind that identical twins typically have even more similar environments — early attachment experiences, peer relationships, and the like — than fraternal twins or non-twin siblings. Because of their similar appearances and temperaments, for example, identical twins may be more likely than fraternal twins or other siblings to be treated similarly. So some of the higher concordance rates may be attributable to environmental factors rather than genetic factors. In any case, if genes do play a role in predisposing people toward certain sexual desires or behaviors, these studies make clear that genetic influences cannot be the whole story.

Summarizing the studies of twins, we can say that there is no reliable scientific evidence that sexual orientation is determined by a person’s genes. But there is evidence that genes play a role in influencing sexual orientation. So the question “Are gay people born that way?” requires clarification. There is virtually no evidence that anyone, gay or straight, is “born that way” if that means their sexual orientation was genetically determined. But there is some evidence from the twin studies that certain genetic profiles probably increase the likelihood the person later identifies as gay or engages in same-sex sexual behavior.

Future twin studies on the heritability of sexual orientation should include analyses of larger samples or meta-analyses or other systematic reviews to overcome the limited sample size and statistical power of some of the existing studies, and analyses of heritability rates across different dimensions of sexuality (such as attraction, behavior, and identity) to overcome the imprecisions of the ambiguous concept of sexual orientation and the limits of studies that look at only one of these dimensions of sexuality.

Molecular Genetics

In examining the question whether, and perhaps to what extent, there may be genetic contributions to homosexuality, we have so far looked at studies that employ methods of classical genetics to estimate the heritability of a trait like sexual orientation but that do not identify particular genes that may be associated with the trait.[47] But genetics can also be studied using what are often called molecular methods that provide estimates of which particular genetic variations are associated with traits, whether physical or behavioral.

One early attempt to identify a more specific genetic basis for homosexuality was a 1993 study by geneticist Dean Hamer and colleagues of 40 pairs of homosexual brothers.[48] By examining the family history of homosexuality for these individuals, they identified a possible linkage between homosexuality in males and genetic markers on the Xq28 region of the X chromosome. Attempts to replicate this influential study’s results have had mixed results: George Rice and colleagues attempted and failed to replicate Hamer’s findings,[49] though in 2015 Alan R. Sanders and colleagues were able to replicate Hamer’s original findings using a larger population size of 409 male twin pairs of homosexual brothers, and to find additional genetic linkage sites.[50] (Since the effect was small, however, the genetic marker would not be a good predictor of sexual orientation.)

Genetic linkage studies like the ones discussed above are able to identify particular regions of chromosomes that may be associated with a trait by looking at patterns of inheritance. Today, one of the chief methods for inferring which genetic variants are associated with a trait is the genome-wide association study, which uses DNA sequencing technologies to identify particular differences in DNA that may be associated with a trait. Scientists examine millions of genetic variants in large numbers of individuals who have a particular trait, as well as individuals who do not have the trait, and compare the frequency of genetic variants among those who do and do not have the trait. Specific genetic variants that occur more frequently among those who have than those who do not have the trait are inferred to have some association with that trait. Genome-wide association studies have become popular in recent years, yet few such scientific studies have found significant associations of genetic variants with sexual orientation. The largest attempt to identify genetic variants associated with homosexuality, a study of over 23,000 individuals from the 23andMe database presented at the American Society of Human Genetics annual meeting in 2012, found no linkages reaching genome-wide significance for same-sex sexual identity for males or females.[51]

So, again, the evidence for a genetic basis for homosexuality is inconsistent and inconclusive, which suggests that, though genetic factors explain some of the variation in sexual orientation, the genetic contribution to this trait is not likely to be strong and even less likely to be decisive.

As is often true of human behavioral tendencies, there may be genetic contributions to the tendency toward homosexual inclinations or behaviors. Phenotypic expression of genes is usually influenced by environmental factors — different environments may lead to different phenotypes even for the same genes. So even if there are genetic factors that contribute to homosexuality, an individual’s sexual attractions or preferences may also be influenced by a number of environmental factors, such as social stressors, including emotional, physical, or sexual abuse. Looking to developmental, environmental, experiential, social, or volitional factors will be necessary to arrive at a fuller picture of how sexual interests, attractions, and desires develop.

The Limited Role of Genetics

Lay readers might note at this point that even at the purely biological level of genetics, the shopworn “nature vs. nurture” debates regarding human psychology have been abandoned by scientists, who recognize that no credible hypothesis can be offered for any particular traits that would be determined either purely by genetics or the environment. The growing field of epigenetics, for example, demonstrates that even for relatively simple traits, gene expression itself can be influenced by innumerable other external factors that can shape the functioning of genes.[52] This is even more relevant when it comes to the relationship between genes and complex traits like sexual attraction, drives, and behaviors.

These gene-environment relationships are complex and multidimensional. Non-genetic developmental factors and environmental experiences may be sculpted, in part, by genetic factors working in subtle ways. For example, social geneticists have documented the indirect role of genes in peer-aligned behaviors, such that an individual’s physical appearance could influence whether a particular social group will include or exclude that individual.[53]

Contemporary geneticists know that genes can influence a person’s range of interests and motivations, therefore indirectly affecting behavior. While genes may in this way incline a person to certain behaviors, compelling behavior directly, independently of a wide range of other factors, seems less plausible. They may influence behavior in more subtle ways, depending on external environmental stimuli (for instance, peer pressure, suggestion, and behavioral rewards) in conjunction with psychological factors and physical makeup. Dean Hamer, whose work on the possible role of genetics in homosexuality was examined above, explained some of the limitations of behavioral genetics in a 2002 article in Science: “The real culprit [of lack of progress in behavioral genetics] is the assumption that the rich complexity of human thought and emotion can be reduced to a simple, linear relation between individual genes and behaviors.... This oversimplified model, which underlies most current research in behavior genetics, ignores the critical importance of the brain, the environment, and gene expression networks.”[54]

The genetic influences affecting any complex human behavior — whether sexual behaviors, or interpersonal interactions — depend in part on individuals’ life experiences as they mature. Genes constitute only one of the many key influences on behavior in addition to environmental influences, personal choices, and interpersonal experiences. The weight of evidence to date strongly suggests that the contribution of genetic factors is modest. We can say with confidence that genes are not the sole, essential cause of sexual orientation; there is evidence that genes play a modest role in contributing to the development of sexual attractions and behaviors but little evidence to support a simplistic “born that way” narrative concerning the nature of sexual orientation.

The Influence of Hormones

Another area of research relevant to the hypothesis that people are born with dispositions toward different sexual orientations involves prenatal hormonal influences on physical development and subsequent male- or female-typical behaviors in early childhood. For ethical and practical reasons, the experimental work in this field is carried out in non-human mammals, which limits how this research can be generalized to human cases. However, children who are born with disorders of sexual development (DSD) serve as a population in which to examine the influence of genetic and hormonal abnormalities on the subsequent development of non-typical sexual identity and sexual orientation.

Hormones responsible for sexual differentiation are generally thought to exert on the developing fetus either organizational effects — which produce permanent changes in the wiring and sensitivity of the brain, and thus are considered largely irreversible — or activating effects, which occur later in an individual’s life (at puberty, and into adulthood).[55] Organizational hormones may prime the fetal systems (including the brain) structurally, and set the stage for sensitivity to hormones presenting at puberty and beyond, when the hormone will then “activate” systems which were “organized” prenatally.

Periods of peak response to the hormonal environment are thought to occur during gestation. For example, testosterone is thought to influence the male fetus maximally between weeks 8 and 24, and then again at birth, until about three months of age.[56] Estrogens are provided throughout gestation by the placenta and the mother’s blood system.[57] Studies in animals reveal there may even be multiple periods of sensitivity for a variety of hormones, that the presence of one hormone may influence the action of another hormone, and the sensitivity of the receptors for these hormones can influence their actions.[58] Sexual differentiation, alone, is a highly complex system.

Specific hormones of interest in this area of research are testosterone, dihydrotestosterone (a metabolite of testosterone, and more potent than testosterone), estradiol, progesterone, and cortisol. The generally accepted pathways of normal hormonal influence of development in utero are as follows. The typical pattern of sex differentiation in human fetuses begins with the differentiation of the sex organs into testes or ovaries, a process that is largely genetically controlled. Once these organs have differentiated, they produce specific hormones that determine development of external genitalia. This window of time in gestation is when hormones exert their phenotypic and neurological effects. Testosterone secreted by the testes contributes to the development of male external genitalia and affects neurological development in males;[59] it is the absence of testosterone in females which allows for the female pattern of external genitalia to develop.[60] Imbalances of testosterone or estrogen, as well as their presence or absence at specific critical periods of gestation, may cause disorders of sexual development. (Genetic or environmental effects can also lead to disorders of sexual development.)

Stress may also play some role in influencing the way hormones shape gonadal development, neurodevelopment, and subsequent sex-typical behaviors in early childhood.[61] Cortisol is the main hormone associated with stress responses. It may originate from the mother, if she experiences severe stressors during her pregnancy, or from the fetus under stress.[62] Elevated levels of cortisol may also occur from genetic defects.[63] One of the most extensively studied disorders of sexual development is congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH), which in females can result in genital virilization.[64] Over 90% of cases of CAH result from a mutation in a gene that codes for an enzyme that helps synthesize cortisol.[65] This results in an overproduction of cortisol precursors, some of which are converted into androgens (hormones associated with male sex development).[66] As a result, girls are born with some degree of virilization of their genitalia, depending on the severity of the genetic defect.[67] For severe cases of genital virilization, surgical intervention is sometimes performed to normalize the genitalia. Hormone therapies are also often administered to mitigate the effects of excess androgen production.[68] Females with CAH, who as fetuses were exposed to above-average levels of androgens, are less likely to be exclusively heterosexual than females without CAH, and females with more severe forms of CAH are more likely to be non-heterosexual than females with milder forms of the condition.[69]

Likewise, there are disorders of sexual development in genetic males affected by androgen insensitivity. In males with androgen insensitivity syndrome, the testes produce testosterone normally, but the receptors to testosterone are not functional.[70] The genitalia, at birth, appear to be female, and the child is usually raised as a female. The individual’s endogenous testosterone is broken down into estrogen, such that the individual begins to develop female secondary sex characteristics.[71] It does not become apparent that there is a problem until puberty, when the individual does not start menses appropriately.[72] These patients generally prefer to continue life as females, and their sexual orientation does not differ from females having an XX genotype.[73] Studies have suggested that they are just as likely if not more likely to be exclusively interested in male partners than XX females.[74]

There are other disorders of sexual development affecting some genetic males (i.e., with an XY genotype) in whom androgen deficiencies are a direct result of the lack of enzymes either to synthesize dihydrotestosterone from testosterone or to produce testosterone from its precursor hormone.[75] Individuals with these deficiencies are born with varied degrees of ambiguous genitalia, and are sometimes raised as girls. During puberty, however, these individuals often experience physical virilization, and must then decide whether to live as men or women. Peggy T. Cohen-Kettenis, a professor of gender development and psychopathology, found that 39 to 64% of individuals with these deficiencies who are raised as girls change to live as men in adolescence and early adulthood, and she also reported that “the degree of external genital masculinization at birth does not seem to be related to gender role changes in a systematic way.”[76]

The twin studies reviewed earlier may shed light on the role of maternal hormonal influences, since both identical and fraternal twins are exposed to similar maternal hormonal influences in utero. The relatively weak concordance rates in the twin studies suggest that prenatal hormones, like genetic factors, do not play a strongly determinative role in sexual orientation. Other attempts at finding significant hormonal influences on sexual development have likewise been mixed, and the salience of the findings is not yet clear. Since direct studies of prenatal hormonal influences on sexual development are methodologically difficult, some studies have tried to develop models whereby differences in prenatal hormonal exposure can be inferred indirectly — by measuring subtle morphological changes or by examining hormonal disorders that are present later during development.

For example, one rough proxy of prenatal testosterone levels used by researchers is the ratio between the length of the second finger (index finger) and the fourth finger (ring finger), which is commonly called the “2D:4D ratio.” Some evidence suggests that the ratio may be influenced by prenatal exposure to testosterone, such that in males higher levels of exposure to testosterone cause shorter index fingers relative to the ring finger (or having a low 2D:4D ratio), and vice versa.[77] According to one hypothesis, homosexual men may have a higher 2D:4D ratio (closer to the ratio found in females than in heterosexual males), while another hypothesis suggests the opposite, that homosexual men may be hypermasculinized by prenatal testosterone, resulting in a lower ratio than in heterosexual men. For women, the hypothesis for homosexuality that they have been hypermasculinized (lower ratio, higher testosterone) has also been proposed. Several studies comparing this trait in homosexually versus heterosexually identified men and women have shown mixed results.

A study published in Nature in 2000 found that in a sample of 720 California adults, the right-hand 2D:4D ratio of homosexual women was significantly more masculine (that is, the ratio was smaller) than that of heterosexual women and did not differ significantly from that of heterosexual men.[78] This study also found no significant difference in mean 2D:4D ratio between heterosexual and homosexual men. Another study that year, which used a relatively small sample of homosexual and heterosexual men from the United Kingdom, reported a lower 2D:4D (that is, more masculine) ratio in homosexual men.[79] A 2003 study using a London-based sample also found that homosexual men had a lower 2D:4D ratio than heterosexuals,[80] while two other studies with samples from California and Texas showed higher 2D:4D ratios for homosexual men.[81]

A 2003 twin study compared seven female monozygotic twin pairs discordant for homosexuality (one twin was lesbian) and five female monozygotic twin pairs concordant for homosexuality (both twins were lesbian).[82] In the twin pairs discordant for sexual orientation, the individuals identifying as homosexual had significantly lower 2D:4D ratios than their twins, whereas the concordant twins showed no difference. The authors interpreted this result as suggesting that “low 2D:4D ratio is a result of differences in prenatal environment.”[83] Finally, a 2005 study of 2D:4D ratios in an Austrian sample of 95 homosexual and 79 heterosexual men found that the 2D:4D ratios of heterosexual men were not significantly different from those of homosexual men.[84] After reviewing the several studies on this trait, the authors conclude that “more data are essential before we can be sure whether there is a 2D:4D effect for sexual orientation in men when ethnic variation is controlled for.”[85]

Much research has examined the effects of prenatal hormones on behavior and brain structure. Again, these results come primarily from studies of non-human primates, but the study of disorders of sexual development has provided helpful insights into the effects of hormones on sexual development in humans. Since hormonal influences typically occur during time-sensitive periods of development, when their effects manifest physically, it is reasonable to assume that organizational effects of these early, time-linked hormonal patterns are likely to direct aspects of neural development. Neuroanatomical connectivity and neurochemical sensitivities may be among such influences.

In 1983, Günter Dörner and colleagues performed a study investigating whether there is any relationship between maternal stress during pregnancy and later sexual identity of their children, interviewing two hundred men about stressful events that may have occurred to their mothers during their prenatal lives.[86] Many of these events occurred as a consequence of World War II. Of men who reported that their mothers had experienced moderately to severely stressful events during pregnancy, 65% were homosexual, 25% were bisexual, and 10% were heterosexual. (Sexual orientation was assessed using the Kinsey scale.) However, more recent studies have shown much smaller or no significant correlations.[87] In a 2002 prospective study on the relationship between sexual orientation and prenatal stress during the second and third trimesters, Hines and colleagues found that stress reported by mothers during pregnancy showed “only a small relationship” to male-typical behaviors in their daughters at the age of 42 months, “and no relationship at all” to female-typical behaviors in their sons.[88]

In summary, some forms of prenatal hormone exposure, particularly CAH in females, are associated with differences in sexual orientation, while other factors are often important in determining the physical and psychological effects of those exposures. Hormonal conditions that contribute to disorders of sex development may contribute to the development of non-heterosexual orientations in some individuals, but this does not demonstrate that such factors explain the development of sexual attractions, desires, and behaviors in the majority of cases.

Sexual Orientation and the Brain

There have been several studies examining neurobiological differences between individuals who identify as heterosexual and those who identify as homosexual. This work began with neuroscientist Simon LeVay’s 1991 study that reported biological differences in the brains of gay men as compared to straight men — specifically, a difference in volume in a particular cell group of the interstitial nuclei of the anterior hypothalamus (INAH3).[89] Later work by psychiatrist William Byne and colleagues showed more nuanced findings: “In agreement with two prior studies ... we found INAH3 to be sexually dimorphic, occupying a significantly greater volume in males than females. In addition, we determined that the sex difference in volume was attributable to a sex difference in neuronal number and not in neuronal size or density.”[90] The authors noted that, “Although there was a trend for INAH3 to occupy a smaller volume in homosexual men than in heterosexual men, there was no difference in the number of neurons within the nucleus based on sexual orientation.” They speculated that “postnatal experience” may account for the differences in volume in this region between homosexual and heterosexual men, though this would require further research to confirm.[91] They also noted that the functional significance of sexual dimorphism in INAH3 is unknown. The authors conclude: “Based on the results of the present study as well as those of LeVay (1991), sexual orientation cannot be reliably predicted on the basis of INAH3 volume alone.”[92] In 2002, psychologist Mitchell S. Lasco and colleagues published a study examining a different part of the brain — the anterior commissure — and found that there were no significant differences in that area based either on sex or sexual orientation.[93]

Other studies have since been conducted to ascertain structural or functional differences between the brains of heterosexual and homosexual individuals (using a variety of criteria to define these categories). Findings from several of these studies are summarized in a 2008 commentary published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.[94] Research of this kind, however, does not seem to reveal much of relevance regarding the etiology or biological origins of sexual orientation. Due to inherent limitations, this research literature is fairly unremarkable. For example, in one study functional MRI was used to measure activity changes in the brain when pictures of men and women were shown to subjects, finding that viewing a female face produced stronger activity in the thalamus and orbitofrontal cortex of heterosexual men and homosexual women, whereas in homosexual men and heterosexual women these structures reacted more strongly to the face of a man.[95] That the brains of heterosexual women and homosexual men reacted distinctively to the faces of men, whereas the brains of heterosexual men and homosexual women reacted distinctively to the faces of women, is a finding that seems rather trivial with respect to understanding the etiology of homosexual attractions. In a similar vein, one study reported different responses to pheromones between homosexual and heterosexual men,[96] and a follow-up study showed a similar finding in homosexual compared to heterosexual women.[97] Another study showed differences in cerebral asymmetry and functional connectivity between homosexual and heterosexual subjects.[98]

While findings of this kind may suggest avenues for future investigation, they do not move us much closer to an understanding of the biological or environmental determinants of sexual attractions, interests, preferences, or behaviors. We will say more about this below. For now, we will briefly illustrate a few of the inherent limitations in this area of research with the following hypothetical example. Suppose we were to study the brains of yoga teachers and compare them to the brains of bodybuilders. If we search long enough, we will eventually find statistically significant differences in some area of brain morphology or brain function between these two groups. But this would not imply that such differences determined the different life trajectories of the yoga teacher and the bodybuilder. The brain differences could have been the result, rather than the cause, of distinctive patterns of behavior or interests.[99] Consider another example. Suppose that gay men tend to have less body fat than straight men (as indicated by lower average scores on body mass indices). Even though body mass is, in part, determined by genetics, we could not claim based on this finding that there is some innate, genetic cause of both body mass and homosexuality at work. It could be the case, for instance, that being gay is associated with a diet that lowers body mass. These examples illustrate one of the common problems encountered in the popular interpretation of such research: the suggestion that the neurobiological pattern determines a particular behavioral expression.

With this overview of studies on biological factors that might influence sexual attraction, preferences, or desires, we can understand the rather strong conclusion by social psychologist Letitia Anne Peplau and colleagues in a 1999 review article: “To recap, more than 50 years of research has failed to demonstrate that biological factors are a major influence in the development of women’s sexual orientation.... Contrary to popular belief, scientists have not convincingly demonstrated that biology determines women’s sexual orientation.”[100] In light of the studies we have summarized here, this statement could also be made for research on male sexual orientation, however this concept is defined.

Misreading the Research

There are some significant built-in limitations to what the kind of empirical research summarized in the preceding sections can show. Ignoring these limitations is one of the main reasons the research is routinely misinterpreted in the public sphere. It may be tempting to assume, as we just saw with the example of brain structure, that if a particular biological profile is associated with some behavioral or psychological trait, then that biological profile causes that trait. This reasoning relies on a fallacy, and in this section we explain why, using concepts from the field of epidemiology. While some of these issues are rather technical in detail, we will try to explain them in a general way that is accessible to the non-specialist reader.

Suppose for the sake of illustration that one or more differences in a biological trait are found between homosexual and heterosexual men. That difference could be a discrete measure (call this D) such as presence of a genetic marker, or it could be a continuous measure (call this C) such as the average volume of a particular part of the brain.

Showing that a risk factor significantly increases the chances of a particular health outcome or a behavior might give us a clue to development of that health outcome or that behavior, but it does not provide evidence of causation. Indeed, it may not provide evidence of anything but the weakest of correlations. The inference is sometimes made that if it can be shown that gay men and straight men differ significantly in the probability that D is present (whether a gene, a hormonal factor, or something else), no matter how low that probability, then this finding suggests that being gay has a biological basis. But this inference is unwarranted. Doubling (or even tripling or quadrupling) the probability of a relatively rare trait can have little value in terms of predicting who will or will not identify as gay.

The same would be true for any continuous variable (C). Showing a significant difference at the mean or average for a given trait (such as the volume of a particular brain region) between men who identify as heterosexual and men who identify as homosexual does not suffice to show that this average difference contributes to the probability of identifying as heterosexual or homosexual. In addition to the reasons explained above, a significant difference at the means of two distributions can be consistent with a great deal of overlap between the distributions. That is, there may be virtually no separation in terms of distinguishing between some individual members of each group, and thus the measure would not provide much predictability for sexual orientation or preference.

Some of these issues could, in part, be addressed by additional methodological approaches, such as the use of a training sample or cross-validation procedures. A training sample is a small sample used to develop a model (or hypothesis); this model is then tested on a larger independent sample. This method avoids testing a hypothesis on the same data used to develop the hypothesis. Cross-validation includes procedures used to examine whether a statistically significant effect is really there or just due to chance. If one wants to show the result did not occur by chance (and if the sample is large), one can run the same tests on a random split of the relevant sample. After finding a difference in the prevalence of trait D or C between a gay sample and a straight sample, researchers could randomly split the gay sample into two groups and then show that these two groups do not differ regarding D or C. Suppose one finds five differences out of 100 comparing gay to straight men in the overall samples, then finds five differences out of 100 when comparing the split gay samples. This would cast additional doubt on the initial finding of a difference between the means of gay and straight individuals.

Sexual Abuse Victimization

Whereas the preceding discussion considered the part that biological factors might play in the development of sexual orientation, this section will summarize evidence that a particular environmental factor — childhood sexual abuse — is reported significantly more often among those who later identify as homosexual. The results presented below raise the question whether there is an association between sexual abuse, particularly in childhood, and later expressions of sexual attraction, behavior, or identity. If so, might child abuse increase the probability of having a non-heterosexual orientation?

Correlations, at least, have been found, as we will summarize below. But we should note first that they might be accounted for by one or more of the following conjectures:

1. Abuse might contribute to the development of non-heterosexual orientation.

2. Children with (signs of future) non-heterosexual tendencies might attract abusers, placing them at elevated risk.

3. Certain factors might contribute to both childhood sexual abuse and non-heterosexual tendencies (for instance, a dysfunctional family or an alcoholic parent).

It should be kept in mind that these three hypotheses are not mutually exclusive; all three, and perhaps others, might be operative. As we summarize the studies on this issue, we will try to evaluate each of these hypotheses in light of current scientific research.

Behavioral and community health professor Mark S. Friedman and colleagues conducted a 2011 meta-analysis of 37 studies from the United States and Canada examining sexual abuse, physical abuse, and peer victimization in heterosexuals as compared to non-heterosexuals.[101] Their results showed that non-heterosexuals were on average 2.9 times more likely to report having been abused as children (under 18 years of age). In particular, non-heterosexual males were 4.9 times likelier — and non-heterosexual females, 1.5 times likelier — than their heterosexual counterparts to report sexual abuse. Non-heterosexual adolescents as a whole were 1.3 times likelier to indicate physical abuse by parents than their heterosexual peers, but gay and lesbian adolescents were only 0.9 times as likely (bisexuals were 1.4 times as likely). As for peer victimization, non-heterosexuals were 1.7 times likelier to report being injured or threatened with a weapon or being attacked.

The authors note that although they hypothesized that the rates of abuse would decrease as social acceptance of homosexuality rose, “disparities in prevalence rates of sexual abuse, parental physical abuse, and peer victimization between sexual minority and sexual nonminority youths did not change from the 1990s to the first decade of the 2000s.”[102] While these authors cite authorities who claim that sexual abuse does not “cause individuals to become gay, lesbian, or bisexual,”[103] their data do not give evidence against the hypothesis that childhood sexual abuse might affect sexual orientation. On the other hand, the causal path could be in the opposite direction or bi-directional. The evidence does not refute or support this conjecture; the study’s design is not capable of shedding much light on the question of directionality.

The authors invoke a widely-cited hypothesis to explain the higher rates of sexual abuse among non-heterosexuals, the hypothesis that “sexual minority individuals are ... more likely to be targeted for sexual abuse, as youths who are perceived to be gay, lesbian, or bisexual are more likely to be bullied by their peers.”[104] The two conjectures — that abuse is a cause and that it is a result of non-heterosexual tendencies — are not mutually exclusive: abuse may be a causal factor in the development of non-heterosexual attractions and desires, and at the same time non-heterosexual attractions, desires, and behaviors may increase the risk of being targeted for abuse.

Community health sciences professor Emily Faith Rothman and colleagues conducted a 2011 systematic review of the research investigating the prevalence of sexual assault against people who identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual in the United States.[105] They examined 75 studies (25 of which used probability sampling) involving a total of 139,635 gay or bisexual (GB) men and lesbian or bisexual (LB) women, which measured the prevalence of victimization due to lifetime sexual assault (LSA), childhood sexual assault (CSA), adult sexual assault (ASA), intimate partner sexual assault (IPSA), and hate-crime-related sexual assault (HC). Although the study was limited by not having a heterosexual control group, it showed alarmingly high rates of sexual assault, including childhood sexual assault, for this population, as summarized in Table 1.

Table 1. Sexual Assault among Gay/Bisexual Men and Lesbian/Bisexual Women
GB Men (%)LB Women (%)
CSA: 4.1–59.2 (median 22.7) CSA: 14.9–76.0 (median 34.5)
ASA: 10.8–44.7 (median 14.7) ASA: 11.3–53.2 (median 23.2) 
LSA: 11.8–54.0 (median 30.4) LSA: 15.6–85.0 (median 43.4)
IPSA: 9.5–57.0 (median 12.1) IPSA: 3.0–45.0 (median 13.3)
HC: 3.0–19.8 (median 14.0) HC: 1.0–12.3 (median 5.0)

Using a multi-state probability-based sample in a 2013 study, psychologist Judith Anderson and colleagues compared differences in adverse childhood experiences — including dysfunctional households; physical, sexual, or emotional abuse; and parental discord — among self-identified homosexual, heterosexual, and bisexual adults.[106] They found that bisexuals had significantly higher proportions than heterosexuals of all adverse childhood experience factors, and that gays and lesbians had significantly higher proportions than heterosexuals of all these measures except parental separation or divorce. Overall, gays and lesbians had nearly 1.7 times, and bisexuals 1.6 times, the heterosexual rate of adverse childhood experiences. The data for abuse are summarized in Table 2.

Table 2. Adverse Childhood Experiences among Gays/Lesbians, Bisexuals, and Heterosexuals
Sexual Abuse (%)
GLs Bisexuals Heterosexuals
29.7 34.9 14.8
Emotional Abuse (%)
GLs Bisexuals Heterosexuals
47.9 48.4 29.6
Physical Abuse (%)
GLs Bisexuals Heterosexuals
29.3 30.3 16.7

While this study, like some others we have discussed, may be limited by recall bias — that is, inaccuracies introduced by errors of memory — it has the merit of having a control group of self-identified heterosexuals to compare with self-identified gay/lesbian and bisexual cohorts. In their discussion of findings, the authors critique the hypothesis that childhood trauma has a causal relationship to homosexual preferences. Among their reasons for skepticism, they note that the vast majority of individuals who suffer childhood trauma do not become gay or bisexual, and that gender-nonconforming behavior may help explain the elevated rates of abuse. However, it is plausible from these and related results to hypothesize that adverse childhood experiences may be a significant — but not a determinative — factor in developing homosexual preferences. Further studies are needed to see whether either or both hypotheses have merit.

A 2010 study by professor of social and behavioral sciences Andrea Roberts and colleagues examined sexual orientation and risk of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) using data from a national epidemiological face-to-face survey of nearly 35,000 adults.[107] Individuals were placed into several categories: heterosexual with no same-sex attraction or partners (reference group); heterosexual with same-sex attraction but no same-sex partners; heterosexual with same-sex partners; self-identified gay/lesbian; and self-identified bisexual. Among those reporting exposure to traumatic events, gay and lesbian individuals as well as bisexuals had about twice the lifetime risk of PTSD compared to the heterosexual reference group. Differences were found in rates of childhood maltreatment and interpersonal violence: gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and heterosexuals with same-sex partners reported experiencing worse traumas during childhood and adolescence than the reference group. The findings are summarized in Table 3.

Table 3. Childhood Exposure to Maltreatment or Interpersonal Violence (before Age 18)

WomenMen
49.2% of lesbians 31.5% of gays
51.2% of bisexuals Approximately 32% of bisexuals[109]
40.9% of heterosexuals with same-sex partners 27.9% of heterosexuals with same-sex partners
21.2% of heterosexuals 19.8% of heterosexuals

Similar patterns emerged in a 2012 study by psychologist Brendan Zietsch and colleagues that primarily focused on the distinct question of whether common causal factors could explain the association between sexual orientation — in this study defined as sexual preference — and depression.[108] In a community sample of 9,884 adult twins, the authors found that non-heterosexuals had significantly elevated prevalence of lifetime depression (odds ratio for males 2.8; odds ratio for females 2.7). As the authors point out, the data raised questions about whether higher rates of depression for non-heterosexuals could be explained, in their entirety, by the social stress hypothesis (the idea, discussed in depth in Part Two of this report, that social stress experienced by sexual minorities accounts for their elevated risks of poor mental health outcomes). Heterosexuals with a non-heterosexual twin had higher rates of depression (39%) than heterosexual twin pairs (31%), suggesting that genetic, familial, or other factors may play a role.

The authors note that “in both males and females, significantly higher rates of non-heterosexuality were found in participants who experienced childhood sexual abuse and in those with a risky childhood family environment.”[110] Indeed, 41% of non-heterosexual males and 42% of non-heterosexual females reported childhood family dysfunction, compared to 24% and 30% of heterosexual males and females, respectively. And 12% of non-heterosexual males and 24% of non-heterosexual females reported sexual abuse before the age of 14, compared with 4% and 11% of heterosexual males and females, respectively. The authors are careful to emphasize that their findings should not be interpreted as disproving the social stress hypothesis, but suggest that there may be other factors at work. Their findings do, however, suggest there could be common etiological factors for depression and non-heterosexual preferences, as they found that genetic factors account for 60% of the correlation between sexual orientation and depression.[111]

In a 2001 study, psychologist Marie E. Tomeo and colleagues noted that the previous literature had consistently found increased rates of reported childhood molestation in the homosexual population, with somewhere between 10% and 46% reporting that they had experienced childhood sexual abuse.[112] The authors found that 46% of homosexual men and 22% of homosexual women reported that they had been molested by a person of the same gender, as compared with 7% of heterosexual men and 1% of heterosexual women. Moreover, 38% of homosexual women interviewed did not identify as homosexual until after the abuse, while the authors report conflicting figures — 68% in one part of the paper and (by inference) 32% in another — for the number of homosexual men who did not identify as homosexual until after the abuse. The sample for this study was relatively small, only 267 individuals; also, the “sexual contact” measure of abuse in the survey was somewhat vague, and the subjects were recruited from participants in gay pride events in California. But the authors state that “it is most unlikely that all the present findings apply only to homosexual persons who go to homosexual fairs and volunteer to participate in questionnaire research.”[113]

In 2010, psychologists Helen Wilson and Cathy S. Widom published a prospective 30-year follow-up study — one that looked at children who had experienced abuse or neglect between 1961 and 1971, and then followed up with those children after 30 years — to ascertain whether physical abuse, sexual abuse, or neglect in childhood increased the likelihood of same-sex sexual relationships later in life.[114] An original sample of 908 abused and/or neglected children was matched with a non-maltreated control group of 667 individuals (matched for age, sex, race or ethnicity, and approximate socioeconomic status). Homosexuality was operationalized as anyone who had cohabited with a same-sex romantic partner or had a same-sex sexual partner, which made up 8% of the sample. Among these 8%, most individuals also reported having had opposite-sex partners, suggesting high rates of bisexuality or fluidity in sexual attractions or behaviors. The study found that those who reported histories of childhood sexual abuse were 2.8 times more likely to report having had same-sex sexual relationships, though the “relationship between childhood sexual abuse and same-sex sexual orientation was significant only for men.”[115] This finding suggested that boys who are sexually abused may be more likely to establish both heterosexual and homosexual relationships.

The authors advised caution in interpreting this result, because the sample size of sexually abused men was small, but the association remained statistically significant when they controlled for total lifetime number of sexual partners and for engaging in prostitution. The study was also limited by a definition of sexual orientation that was not sensitive to how participants identified themselves. It may have failed to capture people with same-sex attractions but no same-sex romantic relationship history. The study had two notable methodological strengths. The prospective design is better suited for evaluating causal relationships than the typical retrospective design. Also, the childhood abuse recorded was documented when it occurred, thus mitigating recall bias.

Having examined the statistical association between childhood sexual abuse and later homosexuality, we turn to the question of whether the association suggests causation.

A 2013 analysis by health researcher Andrea Roberts and colleagues attempted to provide an answer to this question.[116] The authors noted that while studies show 1.6 to 4 times more reported childhood sexual and physical abuse among gay and lesbian individuals than among heterosexuals, conventional statistical methods cannot demonstrate a strong enough statistical relationship to support the argument of causation. They argued that a sophisticated statistical method called “instrumental variables,” imported from econometrics and economic analysis, could increase the level of association.[117] (The method is somewhat similar to the method of “propensity scores,” which is more sophisticated and more familiar to public health researchers.) The authors applied the method of instrumental variables to data collected from a nationally representative sample.

They used three dichotomous measures of sexual orientation: any vs. no same-sex attraction; any vs. no lifetime same-sex sexual partners; and lesbian, gay, or bisexual vs. heterosexual self-identification. As in other studies, the data showed associations between childhood sexual abuse or maltreatment and all three dimensions of non-heterosexuality (attraction, partners, identity), with associations between sexual abuse and sexual identity being the strongest.

The authors’ instrumental variable models suggested that early sexual abuse increased the predicted rate of same-sex attraction by 2.0 percentage points, same-sex partnering by 1.4 percentage points, and same-sex identity by 0.7 percentage points. The authors estimated the rate of homosexuality that might be attributable to sexual abuse “using effect estimates from conventional models” and found that on conventional effect estimates, “9% of same-sex attraction, 21% of any lifetime same-sex sexual partnering, and 23% of homosexual or bisexual identity was due to childhood sexual abuse.”[118] We should note that these correlations are cross-sectional: they compare groups of people to groups of people, rather than model the course of individuals over time. (A study design with a time-series analysis would give the strongest statistical support to the claim of causality.) Additionally, these results have been strongly criticized on methodological grounds for having made unjustified assumptions in the instrumental variables regression; a commentary by Drew H. Bailey and J. Michael Bailey claims, “Not only do Roberts et al.’s results fail to provide support for the idea that childhood maltreatment causes adult homosexuality, the pattern of differences between males and females is opposite what should be expected based on better evidence.”[119]

Roberts and colleagues conclude their study with several conjectures to explain the epidemiological associations. They echo suggestions made elsewhere that sexual abuse perpetrated by men might cause boys to think they are gay or make girls averse to sexual contact with men. They also conjecture that sexual abuse might leave victims feeling stigmatized, which in turn might make them more likely to act in ways that are socially stigmatized (as by engaging in same-sex sexual relationships). The authors also point to the biological effects of maltreatment, citing studies that show that “quality of parenting” can affect chemical and hormonal receptors in children, and hypothesizing that this might influence sexuality “through epigenetic changes, particularly in the stria terminalis and the medial amygdala, brain regions that regulate social behavior.”[120] They also mention the possibilities that emotional numbing caused by maltreatment may drive victims to seek out risky behaviors associated with same-sex sexuality, or that same-sex attractions and partnering may result from “the drive for intimacy and sex to repair depressed, stressed, or angry moods,” or from borderline personality disorder, which is a risk factor in individuals who have been maltreated.[121]

In short, while this study suggests that sexual abuse may sometimes be a causal contributor to having a non-heterosexual orientation, more research is needed to elucidate the biological or psychological mechanisms. Without such research, the idea that sexual abuse may be a causal factor in sexual orientation remains speculative.

Distribution of Sexual Desires and Changes Over Time

However sexual desires and interests develop, there is a related issue that scientists debate: whether sexual desires and attractions tend to remain fixed and unalterable across the lifespan of a person — or are fluid and subject to change over time but tend to become fixed after a certain age or developmental period. Advocates of the “born that way” hypothesis, as mentioned earlier, sometimes argue that a person is not only born with a sexual orientation but that that orientation is immutable; it is fixed for life.

There is now considerable scientific evidence that sexual desires, attractions, behaviors, and even identities can, and sometimes do, change over time. For findings in this area we can turn to the most comprehensive study of sexuality to date, the 1992 National Health and Social Life Survey conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago (NORC).[122] Two important publications have appeared using data from NORC’s comprehensive survey: The Social Organization of Sexuality: Sexual Practices in the United States, a large tome of data intended for the research community, and Sex in America: A Definitive Survey, a smaller and more accessible book summarizing the findings for the general public.[123] These books present data from a reliable probability sample of the American population between ages 18 and 59.

According to data from the NORC survey, the estimated prevalence of non-heterosexuality, depending on how it was operationalized, and on whether the subjects were male or female, ranged between roughly 1% and 9%.[124] The NORC studies added scientific respectability to sexual surveys, and these findings have been largely replicated in the United States and abroad. For example, the British National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal) is probably the most reliable source of information on sexual behavior in that country — a study conducted every ten years since 1990.[125]

The NORC study also suggested ways in which sexual behaviors and identities can vary significantly under different social and environmental circumstances. The findings revealed, for example, a sizable difference in rates of male homosexual behavior among individuals who spent their adolescence in rural as compared to large metropolitan cities in America, suggesting the influence of social and cultural environments. Whereas only 1.2% of males who had spent their adolescence in a rural environment responded that they had had a male sexual partner in the year of the survey, those who had spent adolescence living in metropolitan areas were close to four times (4.4%) more likely to report that they had had such an encounter.[126] From these data one cannot infer differences between these environments in the prevalence of sexual interests or attractions, but the data do suggest differences in sexual behaviors. Also of note is that women who attended college were nine times more likely to identify as lesbians than women who did not.[127]

Moreover, other population-based surveys suggest that sexual desire may be fluid for a considerable number of individuals, especially among adolescents as they mature through the early stages of adult development. In this regard, opposite-sex attraction and identity seem to be more stable than same-sex or bisexual attraction and identity. This is suggested by data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (the “Add Health” study discussed earlier). This prospective longitudinal study of a nationally representative sample of U.S. adolescents starting in grades 7–12 began during the 1994–1995 school year, and followed the cohort into young adulthood, with four follow-up interviews (referred to as Waves I, II, III, IV in the literature).[128] The most recent was in 2007–2008, when the sample was aged 24–32.

Same-sex or both-sex romantic attractions were quite prevalent in the study’s first wave, with rates of approximately 7% for the males and 5% for the females.[129] However, 80% of the adolescent males who had reported same-sex attractions at Wave I later identifed themselves as exclusively heterosexual as young adults at Wave IV.[130] Similarly, for adolescent males who, at Wave I, reported romantic attraction to both sexes, over 80% of them reported no same-sex romantic attraction at Wave III.[131] The data for the females surveyed were similar but less striking: for adolescent females who had both-sex attractions at Wave I, more than half reported exclusive attraction to males at Wave III.[132]

J. Richard Udry, the director of Add Health for Waves I, II, and III,[133] was among the first to point out the fluidity and instability of romantic attraction between the first two waves. He reported that among boys who reported romantic attraction only to boys and never to girls at Wave I, 48% did so during Wave II; 35% reported no attraction to either sex; 11% reported exclusively same-sex attraction; and 6% reported attraction to both sexes.[134]

Ritch Savin-Williams and Geoffrey Ream published a 2007 analysis of the data from Waves I–III of Add Health.[135] Measures used included whether individuals ever had a romantic attraction for a given sex, sexual behavior, and sexual identity. (The categories for sexual identity were 100% heterosexual, mostly heterosexual but somewhat same-sex attracted, bisexual, mostly homosexual but somewhat attracted to opposite sex, and 100% homosexual.) While the authors noted the “stability of opposite-sex attraction and behavior” between Waves I and III, they found a “high proportion of participants with same- and both-sex attraction and behavior that migrated into opposite-sex categories between waves.”[136] A much smaller proportion of those in the heterosexual categories, and a similar proportion of those without attraction, moved to non-heterosexual categories. The authors summarize: “All attraction categories other than opposite-sex were associated with a lower likelihood of stability over time. That is, individuals reporting any same-sex attractions were more likely to report subsequent shifts in their attractions than were individuals without any same-sex attractions.”[137]

The authors also note the difficulties these data present for trying to define sexual orientation and to classify individuals according to such categories: “the critical consideration is whether having ‘any’ same-sex sexuality qualifies as nonheterosexuality. How much of a dimension must be present to tip the scales from one sexual orientation to another was not resolved with the present data, only that such decisions matter in terms of prevalence rates.”[138] The authors suggested that researchers could “forsake the general notion of sexual orientation altogether and assess only those components relevant for the research question.”[139]

Another prospective study by biostatistician Miles Ott and colleagues of 10,515 youth (3,980 males; 6,535 females) in 2013 showed findings on sexual orientation change in adolescents consistent with the findings of the Add Health data, again suggesting fluidity and plasticity of same-sex attractions among many adolescents.[140]

A few years after the Add Health data were originally published, the Archives of Sexual Behavior published an article by Savin-Williams and Joyner that critiqued the Add Health data on sexual attraction change.[141] Before outlining their critique, Savin-Williams and Joyner summarize the key Add Health findings: “in the approximately 13 years between Waves I and IV, regardless of whether the measure was identical across waves (romantic attraction) or discrepant in words but not in theory (romantic attraction and sexual orientation identity), approximately 80% of adolescent boys and half of adolescent girls who expressed either partial or exclusive same-sex romantic attraction at Wave I ‘turned’ heterosexual (opposite-sex attraction or exclusively heterosexual identity) as young adults.”[142] The authors propose three hypotheses to explain these discrepancies:

(1) gay adolescents going into the closet during their young adult years; (2) confusion regarding the use and meaning of romantic attraction as a proxy for sexual orientation; and (3) the existence of mischievous adolescents who played a ‘jokester’ role by reporting same-sex attraction when none was present.[143]

Savin-Williams and Joyner reject the first hypothesis but find support for the second and the third. With respect to the second hypothesis, they question the use of romantic attraction to operationalize sexual identity:

To help us assess whether the construct/measurement issue (romantic attraction versus sexual orientation identity) was driving results, we compared the two constructs at Wave IV.... Whereas over 99% of young adults with opposite-sex romantic attraction identified as heterosexual or mostly heterosexual and 94% of those with same-sex romantic attraction identified as homosexual or mostly homosexual, 33% of both-sex attracted men identified as heterosexual (just 6% of both-sex attracted women identified as heterosexual). These data indicated that young adult men and women generally understood the meaning of romantic attraction to the opposite- or same-sex to imply a particular (and consistent) sexual orientation identity, with one glaring exception — a substantial subset of young adult men who, despite their stated both-sex romantic attraction, identified as heterosexual.

Regarding the third hypothesis for explaining the Add Health data, Savin-Williams and Joyner note that surveys of adolescents sometimes yield unusual or distorted results due to adolescents who do not respond truthfully. The Add Health survey, they observe, had a significant number of unusual responders. For example, several hundred adolescents reported in the Wave I questionnaire that they had an artificial limb, whereas in later at-home interviews, only two of those adolescents reported having an artificial limb.[144] Adolescent boys who went from nonheterosexual in Wave I to heterosexual in Wave IV were significantly less likely to report having filled out the Wave I questionnaire honestly; these boys also displayed other significant differences, such as lower grade point averages. Additionally, like consistently heterosexual boys, boys who were inconsistent between Waves I and IV were more popular in their school with boys than girls, whereas consistently nonheterosexual boys were more popular with girls. These and other data[145] led the authors to conclude that “boys who emerged from a gay or bisexual adolescence to become a heterosexual young adulthood were, by-and-large, heterosexual adolescents who were either confused and did not understand the measure of romantic attraction or jokesters who decided, for reasons we were not able to detect, to dishonestly report their sexuality.”[146] However, the authors were not able to estimate the proportion of inaccurate responders, which would have helped evaluate the explanatory power of the hypotheses.

Later in 2014, the Archives of Sexual Behavior published a critique of the Savin-Williams and Joyner explanation of Add Health data by psychologist Gu Li and colleagues.[147] Along with criticizing the methodology of Savin-Williams and Joyner, these authors argued that the data were consistent with a scenario in which some nonheterosexual adolescents went “back into the closet” in later years as a possible reaction to social stress. (We will examine the effects of social stress on mental health in LGBT populations in Part Two of this report.) They also claimed that “it makes little sense to use responses to Wave IV sexual identity to validate or invalidate responses to Waves I or IV romantic attractions when these aspects of sexual orientation may not align in the first place.”[148] Regarding the jokester hypothesis, these authors pose this difficulty: “Although some participants might be ‘jokesters,’ and we as researchers should be cautious of problems associated with self-report surveys whenever analyzing and interpreting data, it is unclear why the ‘jokesters’ would answer questions about delinquency honestly, but not questions about their sexual orientation.”[149]

Savin-Williams and Joyner published a response to the critique in the same issue of the journal.[150] Responding to the criticism that their comparison of Wave IV self-reported sexual identity to Wave I self-reported romantic attractions was unsound, Savin-Williams and Joyner claimed that the results were quite similar if one used attraction as the Wave IV measure. They also deemed it highly unlikely that a large proportion of the respondents who were classified as nonheterosexuals in Wave I and heterosexuals in Wave IV went “back into the closet,” because the proportion of individuals in adolescence and young adulthood who are “out of the closet” usually increases over time.[151]

The following year, the Archives of Sexual Behavior published another response to Savin-Williams and Joyner by psychologist Sabra Katz-Wise and colleagues, which argued that Savin-Williams and Joyner’s “approach to identifying ‘dubious’ sexual minority youth is inherently flawed.”[152] They wrote that “romantic attraction and sexual orientation identity are two distinct dimensions of sexual orientation that may not be concordant, even at a single time point.”[153] They also claimed that “even if Add Health had assessed the same facets of sexual orientation at all waves, it would still be incorrect to infer ‘dubious’ sexual minorities from changes on the same dimension of sexual orientation, because these changes may reflect sexual fluidity.”[154]

Unfortunately, the Add Health study does not appear to contain the data that would allow an assessment to determine which, if any, of these interpretations is likely to be correct. It may well be the case that a combination of factors contributed to the differences between the Wave I and Wave IV data. For example, there may have been some adolescents who responded to the Wave I sexual attraction questions inaccurately, some openly nonheterosexual adolescents who later went “back into the closet,” and some adolescents who experienced nonheterosexual attractions before Wave I that largely disappeared by Wave IV. Other prospective study designs that track specific individuals across adolescent and adult development may shed further light on these issues.

While ambiguities in defining and characterizing sexual desire and orientation make changes in sexual desire difficult to study, data from these large, population-based national studies of randomly sampled individuals do suggest that all three dimensions of sexuality — affect, behavior, and identity — may change over time for some people. It is unclear, and current research does not address, whether and to what extent factors subject to volitional control — choice of sexual partners or sexual behaviors, for example — may influence such changes through conditioning and other mechanisms that are characterized in the behavioral sciences.

Several researchers have suggested that sexual orientation and attractions may be especially plastic for women.[155] For example, Lisa Diamond argued in her 2008 book Sexual Fluidity that “women’s sexuality is fundamentally more fluid than men’s, permitting greater variability in its development and expression over the life course,” based on research by her and many others.[156]

Diamond’s longitudinal five-year interviews of women in sexual relationships with other women also shed light on the problems with the concept of sexual orientation. In many cases, the women in her study reported not so much setting out to form a lesbian sexual relationship but rather experiencing a gradual growth of affective intimacy with a woman that eventually led to sexual involvement. Some of these women rejected the labels of “lesbian,” “straight,” or “bisexual” as being inconsistent with their lived experience.[157] In another study, Diamond calls into question the utility of the concept of sexual orientation, especially as it applies to females.[158] She points out that if the neural basis of parent-child attachment — including attachment to one’s mother — forms at least part of the basis for romantic attachments in adulthood, then it would not be surprising for a woman to experience romantic feelings for another woman without necessarily wanting to be sexually intimate with her. Diamond’s research indicates that these kinds of relationships form more often than we typically recognize, especially among women.

Some researchers have also suggested that men’s sexuality is more fluid than it was previously thought. For example, Diamond presented a 2014 conference paper, based on initial results from a survey of 394 people, entitled “I Was Wrong! Men Are Pretty Darn Sexually Fluid, Too!”[159] Diamond based this conclusion on a survey of men and women between the ages of 18 and 35, which asked about their sexual attractions and self-described identities at different stages of their lives. The survey found that 35% of self-identified gay men reported experiencing opposite-sex attractions in the past year, and 10% of self-identified gay men reported opposite-sex sexual behavior during the same period. Additionally, nearly as many men transitioned at some time in their life from gay to bisexual, queer, or unlabeled identity as did men from bisexual to gay identity.

In a 2012 review article entitled “Can We Change Sexual Orientation?” published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, psychologist Lee Beckstead wrote, “Although their sexual behavior, identity, and attractions may change throughout their lives, this may not indicate a change in sexual orientation ... but a change in awareness and an expansion of sexuality.”[160] It is difficult to know how to interpret this claim — that sexual behavior, identity, and attractions may change but that this does not necessarily indicate a change in sexual orientation. We have already analyzed the inherent difficulties of defining sexual orientation, but however one chooses to define this construct, it seems that the definition would somehow be tied to sexual behavior, identity, or attraction. Perhaps we can take Beckstead’s claim here as one more reason to consider dispensing with the construct of sexual orientation in the context of social science research, as it seems that whatever it might represent, it is only loosely or inconsistently tied to empirically measurable phenomena.

Given the possibility of changes in sexual desire and attraction, which research suggests is not uncommon, any attempt to infer a stable, innate, and fixed identity from a complex and often shifting mélange of inner fantasies, desires, and attractions — sexual, romantic, aesthetic, or otherwise — is fraught with difficulties. We can imagine, for example, a sixteen-year-old boy who becomes infatuated with a young man in his twenties, developing fantasies centered around the other’s body and build, or perhaps on some of his character traits or strengths. Perhaps one night at a party the two engage in physical intimacy, catalyzed by alcohol and by the general mood of the party. This young man then begins an anguished process of introspection and self-exploration aimed at finding the answer to the enigmatic question, “Does this mean I’m gay?”

Current research from the biological, psychological, and social sciences suggests that this question, at least as it is framed, makes little sense. As far as science can tell us, there is nothing “there” for this young man to discover — no fact of nature to uncover or to find buried within himself. What his fantasies, or his one-time liaison, “really mean” is subject to any number of interpretations: that he finds the male figure beautiful, that he was lonely and feeling rejected the night of the party and responded to his peer’s attentions and affections, that he was intoxicated and influenced by the loud music and strobe lights, that he does have a deep-seated sexual or romantic attraction to other men, and so on. Indeed, psychodynamic interpretations of such behaviors citing unconscious motivational factors and inner conflicts, many of them interesting, most impossible to prove, can be spun endlessly.

What we can say with more confidence is that this young man had an experience encompassing complex feelings, or that he engaged in a sexual act conditioned by multiple complex factors, and that such fantasies, feelings, or associated behaviors may (or may not) be subject to change as he grows and develops. Such behaviors could become more habitual with repetition and thus more stable, or they may extinguish and recur rarely or never. The research on sexual behaviors, sexual desire, and sexual identity suggests that both trajectories are real possibilities.

Conclusion

The concept of sexual orientation is unusually ambiguous compared to other psychological traits. Typically, it refers to at least one of three things: attractions, behaviors, or identity. Additionally, we have seen that sexual orientation often refers to several other things as well: belonging to a certain community, fantasies (as distinct in some respects from attractions), longings, strivings, felt needs for certain forms of companionship, and so on. It is important, then, that researchers are clear about which of these domains are being studied, and that we keep in mind the researchers’ specified definitions when we interpret their findings.

Furthermore, not only can the term “sexual orientation” be understood in several different senses, most of the senses are themselves complex concepts. Attraction, for example, could refer to arousal patterns, or to romantic feelings, or to desires for company, or other things; and each of these things can be present either sporadically and temporarily or pervasively and long-term, either exclusively or not, either in a deep or shallow way, and so forth. For this reason, even specifying one of the basic senses of orientation (attraction, behavior, or identity) is insufficient for doing justice to the richly varied phenomenon of human sexuality.

In this part we have criticized the common assumption that sexual desires, attractions, or longings reveal some innate and fixed feature of our biological or psychological constitution, a fixed sexual identity or orientation. Furthermore, we may have some reasons to doubt the common assumption that in order to live happy and flourishing lives, we must somehow discover this innate fact about ourselves that we call sexuality or sexual orientation, and invariably express it through particular patterns of sexual behavior or a particular life trajectory. Perhaps we ought instead to consider what sorts of behaviors — whether in the sexual realm or elsewhere — tend to be conducive to health and flourishing, and what kinds of behaviors tend to undermine a healthy and flourishing life.


Introduction

2. Sexuality, Mental Health Outcomes, and Social Stress 



Notes
[*] “Operationalizing” refers to the way social scientists make a variable measurable. Homosexuality may be operationalized as the answers that survey respondents give to questions about their sexual orientation. Or it could be operationalized as answers to questions about their desires, attractions, and behavior. Operationalizing variables in ways that will reliably measure the trait or behavior being studied is a difficult but important part of any social science research.
[1] Alex Witchel, “Life After ‘Sex,’” The New York Times Magazine, January 19, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/22/magazine/cynthia-nixon-wit.html.
[2] Brandon Ambrosino, “I Wasn’t Born This Way. I Choose to Be Gay,” The New Republic, January 28, 2014, https://newrepublic.com/article/116378/macklemores-same-love-sends-wrong-message-about-being-gay.
[3] J. Michael Bailey et al., “A Family History Study of Male Sexual Orientation Using Three Independent Samples,” Behavior Genetics 29, no. 2 (1999): 79–86, http://dx.doi.org/10.1023/A:1021652204405; Andrea Camperio-Ciani, Francesca Corna, Claudio Capiluppi, “Evidence for maternally inherited factors favouring male homosexuality and promoting female fecundity,” Proceedings of the Royal Society B 271, no. 1554 (2004): 2217–2221, http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2004.2872; Dean H. Hamer et al., “A linkage between DNA markers on the X chromosome and male sexual orientation,” Science 261, no. 5119 (1993): 321–327, http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.8332896.
[4] Elizabeth Norton, “Homosexuality May Start in the Womb,” Science, December 11, 2012, http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2012/12/homosexuality-may-start-womb.
[5] Mark Joseph Stern, “No, Being Gay Is Not a Choice,” Slate, February 4, 2014, http://www.slate.com/blogs/outward/2014/02/04/choose_to_be_gay_no_you_don_t.html.
[6] David Nimmons, “Sex and the Brain,” Discover, March 1, 1994, http://discovermagazine.com/1994/mar/sexandthebrain346/.
[7] Leonard Sax, Why Gender Matters: What Parents and Teachers Need to Know about the Emerging Science of Sex Differences (New York: Doubleday, 2005), 206.
[8] Benoit Denizet-Lewis, “The Scientific Quest to Prove Bisexuality Exists,” The New York Times Magazine, March 20, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/23/magazine/the-scientific-quest-to-prove-bisexuality-exists.html.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Stephen B. Levine, “Reexploring the Concept of Sexual Desire,” Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 28, no. 1 (2002), 39, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/009262302317251007.
[12] Ibid.
[13] See Lori A. Brotto et al., “Sexual Desire and Pleasure,” in APA Handbook of Sexuality and Psychology, Volume 1: Person-based Approaches, APA (2014): 205–244; Stephen B. Levine, “Reexploring the Concept of Sexual Desire,” Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy 28, no. 1 (2002): 39–51, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/009262302317251007; Lisa M. Diamond, “What Does Sexual Orientation Orient? A Biobehavioral Model Distinguishing Romantic Love and Sexual Desire,” Psychological Review 110, no. 1 (2003): 173–192, http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0033-295X.110.1.173; Gian C. Gonzaga et al., “Romantic Love and Sexual Desire in Close Relationships,” Emotion 6, no. 2 (2006): 163–179, http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/1528-3542.6.2.163.
[14] Alexander R. Pruss, One Body: An Essay in Christian Sexual Ethics (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 2012), 360.
[15] Neil A. Campbell and Jane B. Reece, Biology, Seventh Edition (San Francisco: Pearson Education, 2005), 973.
[16] See, for instance, Nancy Burley, “The Evolution of Concealed Ovulation,” American Naturalist 114, no. 6 (1979): 835–858, http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/283532.
[17] David Woodruff Smith, “Phenomenology,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2013), http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/phenomenology/.
[18] See, for instance, Abraham Maslow, Motivation and Personality, Third Edition (New York: Addison-Wesley Educational Publishers, 1987).
[19] Marc-André Raffalovich, Uranisme et unisexualité: étude sur différentes manifestations de l’instinct sexuel (Lyon, France: Storck, 1896).
[20] See, generally, Brocard Sewell, In the Dorian Mode: Life of John Gray 1866–1934 (Padstow, Cornwall, U.K.: Tabb House, 1983).
[21] For more on the Kinsey scale, see “Kinsey’s Heterosexual-Homosexual Rating Scale,” Kinsey Institute at Indiana University, http://www.kinseyinstitute.org/research/publications/kinsey-scale.php.
[22] Brief as Amicus Curiae of Daniel N. Robinson in Support of Petitioners and Supporting Reversal, Hollingsworth v. Perry, 133 S. Ct. 2652 (2013).
[23] See, for example, John Bowlby, “The Nature of the Child’s Tie to His Mother,” The International Journal of Psycho-Analysis 39 (1958): 350–373.
[24] Edward O. Laumann et al., The Social Organization of Sexuality: Sexual Practices in the United States (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994).
[25] American Psychological Association, “Answers to Your Questions for a Better Understanding of Sexual Orientation & Homosexuality,” 2008, http://www.apa.org/topics/lgbt/orientation.pdf.
[26] Laumann et al., The Social Organization of Sexuality, 300–301.
[27] Lisa M. Diamond and Ritch C. Savin-Williams, “Gender and Sexual Identity,” in Handbook of Applied Development Science, eds. Richard M. Lerner, Francine Jacobs, and Donald Wertlieb (Thousand Oaks, Calif.: SAGE Publications, 2002), 101. See also A. Elfin Moses and Robert O. Hawkins, Counseling Lesbian Women and Gay Men: A Life-Issues Approach (Saint Louis, Mo.: Mosby, 1982).
[28] John. C. Gonsiorek and James D. Weinrich, “The Definition and Scope of Sexual Orientation,” in Homosexuality: Research Implications for Public Policy, eds. John. C. Gonsiorek and James D. Weinrich (Newberry Park, Calif.: SAGE Publications, 1991), 8.
[29] Letitia Anne Peplau et al., “The Development of Sexual Orientation in Women,” Annual Review of Sex Research 10, no. 1 (1999): 83, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10532528.1999.10559775.
[30] Lisa M. Diamond, “New Paradigms for Research on Heterosexual and Sexual-Minority Development,” Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology 32, no. 4 (2003): 492.
[31] Franz J. Kallmann, “Comparative Twin Study on the Genetic Aspects of Male Homosexuality,” Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 115, no. 4 (1952): 283–298, http://dx.doi.org/10.1097/00005053-195201000-00025.
[32] Edward Stein, The Mismeasure of Desire: The Science, Theory, and Ethics of Sexual Orientation (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 145.
[33] J. Michael Bailey, Michael P. Dunne, and Nicholas G. Martin, “Genetic and environmental influences on sexual orientation and its correlates in an Australian twin sample,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 78, no. 3 (2000): 524–536, http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.78.3.524.
[34] Bailey and colleagues calculated these concordance rates using a “strict” criterion for determining non-heterosexuality, which was a Kinsey score of 2 or greater. They also calculated concordance rates using a “lenient” criterion, a Kinsey score of 1 or greater. The concordance rates for this lenient criterion were 38% for men and 30% for women in identical twins, compared to 6% for men and 30% for women in fraternal twins. The differences between the identical and fraternal concordance rates using the lenient criterion were statistically significant for men but not for women.
[35] Bailey, Dunne, and Martin, “Genetic and environmental influences on sexual orientation and its correlates in an Australian twin sample,” 534.
[36] These examples are drawn from Ned Block, “How heritability misleads about race,” Cognition 56, no. 2 (1995): 103–104, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/0010-0277(95)00678-R.
[37] Niklas Långström et al., “Genetic and Environmental Effects on Same-sex Sexual Behavior: A Population Study of Twins in Sweden,” Archives of Sexual Behavior 39, no. 1 (2010): 75–80, http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10508-008-9386-1.
[38] Ibid., 79.
[39] Peter S. Bearman and Hannah Brückner, “Opposite-Sex Twins and Adolescent Same-Sex Attraction,” American Journal of Sociology 107, no. 5 (2002): 1179–1205, http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/341906.
[40] Ibid., 1199.
[41] See, for example, Ray Blanchard and Anthony F. Bogaert, “Homosexuality in men and number of older brothers,” American Journal of Psychiatry 153, no. 1 (1996): 27–31, http://dx.doi.org/10.1176/ajp.153.1.27.
[42] Peter S. Bearman and Hannah Brückner, 1198.
[43] Ibid., 1198.
[44] Ibid., 1179.
[45] Kenneth S. Kendler et al., “Sexual Orientation in a U.S. National Sample of Twin and Nontwin Sibling Pairs,” American Journal of Psychiatry 157, no. 11 (2000): 1843–1846, http://dx.doi.org/10.1176/appi.ajp.157.11.1843.
[46] Ibid., 1845.
[47] Quantitative genetic studies, including twin studies, rely on an abstract model based on many assumptions, rather than on the measurement of correlations between genes and phenotypes. This abstract model is used to infer the presence of a genetic contribution to a trait by means of correlation among relatives. Environmental effects can be controlled in experiments with laboratory animals, but in humans this is not possible, so it is likely that the best that can be done is to study identical twins raised apart. But it should be noted that even these studies can be somewhat misinterpreted because identical twins adopted separately tend to be adopted into similar socioeconomic environments. The twin studies on homosexuality do not include any separated twin studies, and the study designs report few effective controls for environmental effects (for instance, identical twins likely share a common rearing environment to a greater extent than ordinary siblings or even fraternal twins).
[48] Dean H. Hamer et al., “A linkage between DNA markers on the X chromosome and male sexual orientation,” Science 261, no. 5119 (1993): 321–327, http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.8332896.
[49] George Rice et al., “Male Homosexuality: Absence of Linkage to Microsatellite Markers at Xq28,” Science 284, no. 5414 (1999): 665–667, http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.284.5414.665.
[50] Alan R. Sanders et al., “Genome-wide scan demonstrates significant linkage for male sexual orientation,” Psychological Medicine 45, no. 07 (2015): 1379–1388, http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0033291714002451.
[51] E.M. Drabant et al., “Genome-Wide Association Study of Sexual Orientation in a Large, Web-based Cohort,” 23andMe, Inc., Mountain View, Calif. (2012), http://blog.23andme.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/Drabant-Poster-v7.pdf.
[52] Richard C. Francis, Epigenetics: How Environment Shapes Our Genes (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2012).
[53] See, for example, Richard P. Ebstein et al., “Genetics of Human Social Behavior,” Neuron 65, no. 6 (2010): 831–844, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neuron.2010.02.020.
[54] Dean Hamer, “Rethinking Behavior Genetics,” Science 298, no. 5591 (2002): 71, http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.1077582.
[55] For an overview of the distinction between the organizational and activating effects of hormones and its importance in the field of endocrinology, see Arthur P. Arnold, “The organizational-activational hypothesis as the foundation for a unified theory of sexual differentiation of all mammalian tissues,” Hormones and Behavior 55, no. 5 (2009): 570–578, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.yhbeh.2009.03.011.
[56] Melissa Hines, “Prenatal endocrine influences on sexual orientation and on sexually differentiated childhood behavior,” Frontiers in Neuroendocrinology 32, no. 2 (2011): 170–182, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.yfrne.2011.02.006.
[57] Eugene D. Albrecht and Gerald J. Pepe, “Estrogen regulation of placental angiogenesis and fetal ovarian development during primate pregnancy,” The International Journal of Developmental Biology 54, no. 2–3 (2010): 397–408, http://dx.doi.org/10.1387/ijdb.082758ea.
[58] Sheri A. Berenbaum, “How Hormones Affect Behavioral and Neural Development: Introduction to the Special Issue on ‘Gonadal Hormones and Sex Differences in Behavior,’” Developmental Neuropsychology 14 (1998): 175–196, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/87565649809540708.
[59] Jean D. Wilson, Fredrick W. George, and James E. Griffin, “The Hormonal Control of Sexual Development,” Science 211 (1981): 1278–1284, http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.7010602.
[60] Ibid.
[61] See, for example, Celina C.C. Cohen-Bendahan, Cornelieke van de Beek, and Sheri A. Berenbaum, “Prenatal sex hormone effects on child and adult sex-typed behavior: methods and findings,” Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews 29, no. 2 (2005): 353–384, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2004.11.004; Marta Weinstock, “The potential influence of maternal stress hormones on development and mental health of the offspring,” Brain, Behavior, and Immunity 19, no. 4 (2005): 296–308, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.bbi.2004.09.006; Marta Weinstock, “Gender Differences in the Effects of Prenatal Stress on Brain Development and Behaviour,” Neurochemical Research 32, no. 10 (2007): 1730–1740, http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11064-007-9339-4.
[62] Vivette Glover, T.G. O’Connor, and Kieran O’Donnell, “Prenatal stress and the programming of the HPA axis,” Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews 35, no. 1 (2010): 17–22, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2009.11.008.
[63] See, for example, Felix Beuschlein et al., “Constitutive Activation of PKA Catalytic Subunit in Adrenal Cushing’s Syndrome,” New England Journal of Medicine 370, no. 11 (2014): 1019–1028, http://dx.doi.org/10.1056/NEJMoa1310359.
[64] Phyllis W. Speiser, and Perrin C. White, “Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia,” New England Journal of Medicine 349, no. 8 (2003): 776–788, http://dx.doi.org/10.1056/NEJMra021561.
[65] Ibid., 776.
[66] Ibid.
[67] Ibid., 778.
[68] Phyllis W. Speiser et al., “Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia Due to Steroid 21-Hydroxylase Deficiency: An Endocrine Society Clinical Practice Guideline,” The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism 95, no. 9 (2009): 4133–4160, http://dx.doi.org/10.1210/jc.2009-2631.
[69] Melissa Hines, “Prenatal endocrine influences on sexual orientation and on sexually differentiated childhood behavior,” 173–174.
[70] Ieuan A. Hughes et al., “Androgen insensitivity syndrome,” The Lancet 380, no. 9851 (2012): 1419–1428, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(12)60071-3.
[71] Ibid., 1420.
[72] Ibid., 1419.
[73] Melissa S. Hines, Faisal Ahmed, and Ieuan A. Hughes, “Psychological Outcomes and Gender-Related Development in Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome,” Archives of Sexual Behavior 32, no. 2 (2003): 93–101, http://dx.doi.org/10.1023/A:1022492106974.
[74] See, for example, Claude J. Migeon Wisniewski et al., “Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome: Long-Term Medical, Surgical, and Psychosexual Outcome,” The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism 85, no. 8 (2000): 2664–2669, http://dx.doi.org/10.1210/jcem.85.8.6742.
[75] Peggy T. Cohen-Kettenis, “Gender Change in 46,XY Persons with 5α-Reductase-2 Deficiency and 17β-Hydroxysteroid Dehydrogenase-3 Deficiency,” Archives of Sexual Behavior 34, no. 4 (2005): 399–410, http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10508-005-4339-4.
[76] Ibid., 399.
[77] See, for example, Johannes Hönekopp et al., “Second to fourth digit length ratio (2D:4D) and adult sex hormone levels: New data and a meta-analytic review,” Psychoneuroendocrinology 32, no. 4 (2007): 313–321, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.psyneuen.2007.01.007.
[78] Terrance J. Williams et al., “Finger-length ratios and sexual orientation,” Nature 404, no. 6777 (2000): 455–456, http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/35006555.
[79] S.J. Robinson and John T. Manning, “The ratio of 2nd to 4th digit length and male homosexuality,” Evolution and Human Behavior 21, no. 5 (2000): 333–345, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S1090-5138(00)00052-0.
[80] Qazi Rahman and Glenn D. Wilson, “Sexual orientation and the 2nd to 4th finger length ratio: evidence for organising effects of sex hormones or developmental instability?,” Psychoneuroendocrinology 28, no. 3 (2003): 288–303, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0306-4530(02)00022-7.
[81] Richard A. Lippa, “Are 2D:4D Finger-Length Ratios Related to Sexual Orientation? Yes for Men, No for Women,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 85, no. 1 (2003): 179–188, http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.85.1.179; Dennis McFadden and Erin Shubel, “Relative Lengths of Fingers and Toes in Human Males and Females,” Hormones and Behavior 42, no. 4 (2002): 492–500, http://dx.doi.org/10.1006/hbeh.2002.1833.
[82] Lynn S. Hall and Craig T. Love, “Finger-Length Ratios in Female Monozygotic Twins Discordant for Sexual Orientation,” Archives of Sexual Behavior 32, no. 1 (2003): 23–28, http://dx.doi.org/10.1023/A:1021837211630.
[83] Ibid., 23.
[84] Martin Voracek, John T. Manning, and Ivo Ponocny, “Digit ratio (2D:4D) in homosexual and heterosexual men from Austria,” Archives of Sexual Behavior 34, no. 3 (2005): 335–340, http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10508-005-3122-x.
[85] Ibid., 339.
[86] Günter Dörner et al., “Stressful Events in Prenatal Life of Bi- and Homosexual Men,” Experimental and Clinical Endocrinology 81, no. 1 (1983): 83–87, http://dx.doi.org/10.1055/s-0029-1210210.
[87] See, for example, Lee Ellis et al., “Sexual orientation of human offspring may be altered by severe maternal stress during pregnancy,” Journal of Sex Research 25, no. 2 (1988): 152–157, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00224498809551449; J. Michael Bailey, Lee Willerman, and Carlton Parks, “A Test of the Maternal Stress Theory of Human Male Homosexuality,” Archives of Sexual Behavior 20, no. 3 (1991): 277–293, http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/BF01541847; Lee Ellis and Shirley Cole-Harding, “The effects of prenatal stress, and of prenatal alcohol and nicotine exposure, on human sexual orientation,” Physiology & Behavior 74, no. 1 (2001): 213–226, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0031-9384(01)00564-9.
[88] Melissa Hines et al., “Prenatal Stress and Gender Role Behavior in Girls and Boys: A Longitudinal, Population Study,” Hormones and Behavior 42, no. 2 (2002): 126–134, http://dx.doi.org/10.1006/hbeh.2002.1814.
[89] Simon LeVay, “A Difference in Hypothalamic Structure between Heterosexual and Homosexual Men,” Science 253, no. 5023 (1991): 1034–1037, http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.1887219.
[90] William Byne et al., “The Interstitial Nuclei of the Human Anterior Hypothalamus: An Investigation of Variation with Sex, Sexual Orientation, and HIV Status,” Hormones and Behavior 40, no. 2 (2001): 87, http://dx.doi.org/10.1006/hbeh.2001.1680.
[91] Ibid., 91.
[92] Ibid.
[93] Mitchell S. Lasco, et al., “A lack of dimorphism of sex or sexual orientation in the human anterior commissure,” Brain Research 936, no. 1 (2002): 95–98, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0006-8993(02)02590-8.
[94] Dick F. Swaab, “Sexual orientation and its basis in brain structure and function,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 105, no. 30 (2008): 10273–10274, http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.0805542105.
[95] Felicitas Kranz and Alumit Ishai, “Face Perception Is Modulated by Sexual Preference,” Current Biology 16, no. 1 (2006): 63–68, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2005.10.070.
[96] Ivanka Savic, Hans Berglund, and Per Lindström, “Brain response to putative pheromones in homosexual men,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 102, no. 20 (2005): 7356–7361, http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.0407998102.
[97] Hans Berglund, Per Lindström, and Ivanka Savic, “Brain response to putative pheromones in lesbian women,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 103, no. 21 (2006): 8269–8274, http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.0600331103.
[98] Ivanka Savic and Per Lindström, “PET and MRI show differences in cerebral asymmetry and functional connectivity between homo- and heterosexual subjects,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 105, no. 27 (2008): 9403–9408, http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.0801566105.
[99] Research on neuroplasticity shows that while there are critical periods of development in which the brain changes more rapidly and profoundly (for instance, during development of language in toddlers), the brain continues to change across the lifespan in response to behaviors (like practicing juggling or playing a musical instrument), life experiences, psychotherapy, medications, psychological trauma, and relationships. For a helpful and generally accessible overview of the research related to neuroplasticity, see Norman Doidge, The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science (New York: Penguin, 2007).
[100] Letitia Anne Peplau et al., “The Development of Sexual Orientation in Women,” Annual Review of Sex Research 10, no. 1 (1999): 81, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10532528.1999.10559775. Also see J. Michael Bailey, “What is Sexual Orientation and Do Women Have One?” in Contemporary Perspectives on Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Identities, ed. Debra A. Hope (New York: Springer, 2009), 43–63, http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/978-0-387-09556-1_3.
[101] Mark S. Friedman et al., “A Meta-Analysis of Disparities in Childhood Sexual Abuse, Parental Physical Abuse, and Peer Victimization Among Sexual Minority and Sexual Nonminority Individuals,” American Journal of Public Health 101, no. 8 (2011): 1481–1494, http://dx.doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2009.190009.
[102] Ibid., 1490.
[103] Ibid., 1492.
[104] Ibid.
[105] Emily F. Rothman, Deinera Exner, and Allyson L. Baughman, “The Prevalence of Sexual Assault Against People Who Identify as Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual in the United States: A Systematic Review,” Trauma, Violence, & Abuse 12, no. 2 (2011): 55–66, http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1524838010390707.
[106] Judith P. Andersen and John Blosnich, “Disparities in Adverse Childhood Experiences among Sexual Minority and Heterosexual Adults: Results from a Multi-State Probability-Based Sample,” PLOS ONE 8, no. 1 (2013): e54691, http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0054691.
[107] Andrea L. Roberts et al., “Pervasive Trauma Exposure Among US Sexual Orientation Minority Adults and Risk of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder,” American Journal of Public Health 100, no. 12 (2010): 2433–2441, http://dx.doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2009.168971.
[108] Brendan P. Zietsch et al., “Do shared etiological factors contribute to the relationship between sexual orientation and depression?,” Psychological Medicine 42, no. 3 (2012): 521–532, http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0033291711001577.
[109] The exact figure is not reported in the text for reasons the authors do not specify.
[110] Ibid., 526.
[111] Ibid., 527.
[112] Marie E. Tomeo et al., “Comparative Data of Childhood and Adolescence Molestation in Heterosexual and Homosexual Persons,” Archives of Sexual Behavior 30, no. 5 (2001): 535–541, http://dx.doi.org/10.1023/A:1010243318426.
[113] Ibid., 541.
[114] Helen W. Wilson and Cathy Spatz Widom, “Does Physical Abuse, Sexual Abuse, or Neglect in Childhood Increase the Likelihood of Same-sex Sexual Relationships and Cohabitation? A Prospective 30-year Follow-up,” Archives of Sexual Behavior 39, no. 1 (2010): 63–74, http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10508-008-9449-3.
[115] Ibid., 70.
[116] Andrea L. Roberts, M. Maria Glymour, and Karestan C. Koenen, “Does Maltreatment in Childhood Affect Sexual Orientation in Adulthood?,” Archives of Sexual Behavior 42, no. 2 (2013): 161–171, http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10508-012-0021-9.
[117] For those interested in the methodological details: this statistical method uses a two-step process where “instruments” — in this case, family characteristics that are known to be related to maltreatment (presence of a stepparent, parental alcohol abuse, or parental mental illness) — are used as the “instrumental variables” to predict the risk of maltreatment. In the second step, the predicted risk of maltreatment is employed as the independent variable and adult sexual orientation as the dependent variable; coefficients from this are the instrumental variable estimates. It should also be noted here that these instrumental variable estimation techniques rely on some important (and questionable) assumptions, in this case the assumption that the instruments (the stepparent, the alcohol abuse, the mental illness) do not affect the child’s sexual orientation measures except through child abuse. But this assumption is not demonstrated, and therefore may constitute a foundational limitation of the method. Causation is difficult to support statistically and continues to beguile research in the social sciences in spite of efforts to design studies capable of generating stronger associations that give stronger support to claims of causation.
[118] Roberts, Glymour, and Koenen, “Does Maltreatment in Childhood Affect Sexual Orientation in Adulthood?,” 167.
[119] Drew H. Bailey and J. Michael Bailey, “Poor Instruments Lead to Poor Inferences: Comment on Roberts, Glymour, and Koenen (2013),” Archives of Sexual Behavior 42, no. 8 (2013): 1649–1652, http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10508-013-0101-5.
[120] Roberts, Glymour, and Koenen, “Does Maltreatment in Childhood Affect Sexual Orientation in Adulthood?,” 169.
[121] Ibid., 169.
[122] For information on the study, see “National Health and Social Life Survey,” Population Research Center of the University of Chicago, http://popcenter.uchicago.edu/data/nhsls.shtml.
[123] Edward O. Laumann et al., The Social Organization of Sexuality: Sexual Practices in the United States (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994); Robert T. Michael et al., Sex in America: A Definitive Survey (New York: Warner Books, 1994).
[124] Laumann et al., The Social Organization of Sexuality, 295.
[125] The third iteration of Natsal from 2010 found, over an age range from 16 to 74, that 1.0% of women and 1.5% of men consider themselves gay/lesbian, and 1.4% of women and 1.0% of men think of themselves as bisexual. See Catherine H. Mercer et al., “Changes in sexual attitudes and lifestyles in Britain through the life course and over time: findings from the National Surveys of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal),” The Lancet 382, no. 9907 (2013): 1781–1794, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(13)62035-8. Full results of this survey are reported in several articles in the same issue of The Lancet.
[126] See Table 8.1 in Laumann et al., The Social Organization of Sexuality, 304.
[127] This figure is calculated from Table 8.2 in Laumann et al., The Social Organization of Sexuality, 305.
[128] For more information on the study design of Add Health, see Kathleen Mullan Harris et al., “Study Design,” The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, http://www.cpc.unc.edu/projects/addhealth/design. Some studies based on Add Health data use Arabic numerals rather than Roman numerals to label the waves; when describing or quoting from those studies, we stick with the Roman numerals.
[129] See Table 1 in Ritch C. Savin-Williams and Kara Joyner, “The Dubious Assessment of Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Adolescents of Add Health,” Archives of Sexual Behavior 43, no. 3 (2014): 413–422, http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10508-013-0219-5.
[130] Ibid., 415.
[131] Ibid.
[132] Ibid.
[133] “Research Collaborators,” The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, http://www.cpc.unc.edu/projects/addhealth/people.
[134] J. Richard Udry and Kim Chantala, “Risk Factors Differ According to Same-Sex and Opposite-Sex Interest,” Journal of Biosocial Science 37, no. 04 (2005): 481–497, http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0021932004006765.
[135] Ritch C. Savin-Williams and Geoffrey L. Ream, “Prevalence and Stability of Sexual Orientation Components During Adolescence and Young Adulthood,” Archives of Sexual Behavior 36, no. 3 (2007): 385–394, http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10508-006-9088-5.
[136] Ibid., 388.
[137] Ibid., 389.
[138] Ibid., 392–393.
[139] Ibid., 393.
[140] Miles Q. Ott et al., “Repeated Changes in Reported Sexual Orientation Identity Linked to Substance Use Behaviors in Youth,” Journal of Adolescent Health 52, no. 4 (2013): 465–472, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jadohealth.2012.08.004.
[141] Savin-Williams and Joyner, “The Dubious Assessment of Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Adolescents of Add Health.”
[142] Ibid., 416.
[143] Ibid., 414.
[144] For more analysis of inaccurate responders in the Add Health surveys, see Xitao Fan et al., “An Exploratory Study about Inaccuracy and Invalidity in Adolescent Self-Report Surveys,” Field Methods 18, no. 3 (2006): 223–244, http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/152822X06289161.
[145] Savin-Williams and Joyner were also skeptical of the Add Health survey data because the high proportion of youth reporting same-sex or both-sex attractions (7.3% of boys and 5.0% of girls) in Wave I was very unusual when compared to similar studies, and because of the dramatic reduction in reported same-sex attraction a little over a year later, in Wave II.
[146] Savin-Williams and Joyner, “The Dubious Assessment of Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Adolescents of Add Health,” 420.
[147] Gu Li, Sabra L. Katz-Wise, and Jerel P. Calzo, “The Unjustified Doubt of Add Health Studies on the Health Disparities of Non-Heterosexual Adolescents: Comment on Savin-Williams and Joyner (2014),” Archives of Sexual Behavior, 43 no. 6 (2014): 1023–1026, http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10508-014-0313-3.
[148] Ibid., 1024.
[149] Ibid., 1025.
[150] Ritch C. Savin-Williams and Kara Joyner, “The Politicization of Gay Youth Health: Response to Li, Katz-Wise, and Calzo (2014),” Archives of Sexual Behavior 43, no. 6 (2014): 1027–1030, http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10508-014-0359-2.
[151] See, for example, Stephen T. Russell et al., “Being Out at School: The Implications for School Victimization and Young Adult Adjustment, American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 84, no. 6 (2014): 635–643, http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/ort0000037.
[152] Sabra L. Katz-Wise et al., “Same Data, Different Perspectives: What Is at Stake? Response to Savin-Williams and Joyner (2014a),” Archives of Sexual Behavior 44, no. 1 (2015): 15, http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10508-014-0434-8.
[153] Ibid., 15.
[154] Ibid., 15–16.
[155] For example, see Bailey, “What is Sexual Orientation and Do Women Have One?,” 43–63; Peplau et al., “The Development of Sexual Orientation in Women,” 70–99.
[156] Lisa M. Diamond, Sexual Fluidity (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2008), 52.
[157] Lisa M. Diamond, “Was It a Phase? Young Women’s Relinquishment of Lesbian/Bisexual Identities Over a 5-Year Period,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 84, no. 2 (2003): 352–364, http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.84.2.352.
[158] Diamond, “What Does Sexual Orientation Orient?,” 173–192.
[159] This conference paper was summarized in Denizet-Lewis, “The Scientific Quest to Prove Bisexuality Exists.”
[160] A. Lee Beckstead, “Can We Change Sexual Orientation?,” Archives of Sexual Behavior 41, no. 1 (2012): 128, http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10508-012-9922-x.

Lawrence S. Mayer and Paul R. McHugh, "Part One: Sexual Orientation," Sexuality and Gender: Findings from the Biological, Psychological, and Social SciencesThe New Atlantis, Number 50, Fall 2016, pp. 13-58.